February 9, 2024

Why Local Governments Matter

By: Chris West

A few years ago, I fell in love with Parks and Rec. You might remember the satirical comedy that poked fun at those that lead in local government, painting portraits of eccentric characters. The well-intentioned but largely incompetent Leslie Knope was foiled by the self-promoting, power obsessed Tom and the libertarian Ron Swanson, whose mission was to “not get anything done”. 

My first experience of local government was during my senior year of high school, where I served as the teen member of the town of Garner’s Parks, Recreation, and Cultural Resources Committee. I was recommended by my high school guidance counselor, who recognized my passion for service and heart for community building. These traits are central to my life as an adult but as a 16-year old, I had yet recognized them for myself. To be frank, this committee was nowhere near as exciting as the outrageous town meetings or insane projects on television. 

In fact, most of the time, they were rather mundane and could be unnecessary. Everyone’s voice was heard, which sometimes makes for crazy conversations or disagreement over mundane issues. 

I am so glad I was part of it. During my time on the committee, we helped commission and build a veterans monument in a town park that gave way to powerful stories and histories. We worked with leaders to adapt the fall festival to help bring in more small businesses, and made Relay for Life the largest we had ever had. We also became an All American City during that year. 

During college, I served on the Harnett County’s Economic Development Board. We accomplished nothing, so far as I can tell. The County economic development person got hired elsewhere and the board basically dissolved. This was nowhere near as impactful as my first brush with local government but I made some new friendships and was glad I tried showing up. 

Just this week, I was officially appointed to the City of Raleigh’s Fair Housing Board. I’m not sure what to expect yet but I am excited to be a small part of helping improve the city’s housing procedures. 

We need more young people in local government. Our insight, energy, and ideas are innovative. This new way of thinking can help give new life to committees whose membership skews older. This isn’t just a one sided relationship though. The  new relationships, professional development opportunities, and local connections are all aspects that benefit young people in our communities. Not to mention, the inherent value of being grounded in a place and health benefits of being deeply rooted in a community. 

Regardless of your political party or identity, local government affects your life through taxes, policies, and infrastructure. Making the world a better place starts close at home.  We need more young people in local government.