Young professionals in business, government, education and nonprofits gathered in Columbia in late September for a summit sponsored by the SC Chamber of Commerce. These young leaders heard from a variety of speakers about why it's important to get involved in their communities and local governments, how to go about doing it and what it takes to be successful in community and local government service.
Political decisions are influenced by the people who show up ... that's the bottom line from several city and state officials who spoke about political influence and engagement on a panel at the summit moderated by Reba Campbell, deputy director at the Municipal Association, at the summit.
Senator Shane Massey from Edgefield noted that big decisions are going to be made that will impact you. "If you care about your community and problems we face, you have to be willing to get involved because those decisions will be made with or without you," he said.
Julie Horton, director of government affairs with the City of Greenville, agreed with Massey's contention that showing up is critical. "It's the people who show up that are the people who are heard," said Horton. "So many people complain about government and never do anything about it."
Cayce Mayor Elise Partin used herself as an example of someone who got involved over an issue she passionately believed in. "There was something going on in my community I really wanted to change. I saw the opportunity to really make a difference when I ran for office."
Mary Catherine Farrell (l), assistant to city manager in Hartsville, and Cayce
Mayor Elise Partin (r) (Photo by Penny Delaney Cothran, SC Chamber of Commerce)
Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake echoed Partin's motivation. "I didn't like the fact people could smoke in restaurants, and no one on council at the time seemed to think it was important," she said. "I ran on that issue and found lots of people in the city agreed with me."
Florence Councilmember Octavia Williams-Blake and Senator Shane Massey encourage young professionals to run for office. (Photo by Penny Delaney Cothran, SC Chamber of Commerce)
The panel members also discussed what is important when people come to them about an issue. Williams-Blake said her number one priority is integrity. "People have to trust you and know you have integrity," she said. "Understanding both sides of an issue is critical. People on both sides of an issue can come to me, get an honest ear and I-ll listen to both sides."
Massey said his approach is also to listen to both sides of an issue before coming to a decision. He advised the summit participants to make sure they do their homework before going to an elected official to try and influence a decision.
"If you really want to have influence with me, do your homework before you come see me. I shouldn't know more about your issue than you do," he said.
Horton also observed the importance of relationships in influencing political policy. "Maintain consistent contact with your elected leaders, especially when you don't necessarily need something," she said. "The trust you can establish through these ongoing relationships and involvement with your elected leaders will go a long way when you do need their help."
Partin reinforced the involvement message by encouraging the young professionals to get involved in some way. "It doesn't have to be elected office," she said. "Apply to serve on your local planning commission, get involved with the local chamber. Whatever works for you-just get involved."