Don’t forget the duties
Aug. 29, 2016
by Ivan Raconteur

Back in the ancient times when I was at school, we had civics classes.

I’m pretty sure they were required for all students at the time, and I’m glad they were.

I don’t know if they still teach civics in school. If they do, I suspect it doesn’t have quite the same priority it once had.

People seem to have a fair comprehension of their rights, or are at least aware that they have certain rights.

Even people who have been in the country about five minutes seem to know they have rights.

What seems to be lost is the second half of the equation.

Civics is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship.

It’s the duties part that seems to trip people up.

Citizenship is not just about guaranteeing a bunch of free rights to everyone. There are duties expected of us as well.

I thought about this recently as I was reporting on candidate filings for local offices.

There were some new names on the list, and for this we should be thankful.

More common, however, were seats for which only the incumbents filed.

I am not knocking the incumbents. We should be happy they are willing to continue carrying more than their share of the load.

However, elected office was never intended to be a permanent state.

Representative government functions best when citizens step up, serve to the best of their ability, and then step down to let someone new take over.

It reflects badly on a community when the same few people remain in office for decades because no one else is willing to step up.

This doesn’t mean the decisions long-term elected officials make are bad, but perhaps even better decisions could be made if new people with fresh ideas stepped in to take a turn on their local boards or councils.

Sadder still are the seats for which no candidates have stepped forward.

It seems we have seen more of this in the past few elections than I can recall ever seeing in the past.

It is a trend that should be of concern to all citizens and taxpayers.

In these cases, the board or council is typically required to appoint someone to fill the vacancy.

One might question how committed these people are to the office if they didn’t care enough to file to get their names on the ballot.

Perhaps returning to a focus on civics education would help.

Teaching students that citizenship involves responsibilities as well as rights might just convince a few of them to run for office later in life.

It seems like it would be worth trying.

If the trend of having to appoint the first warm body who doesn’t run the other way continues, it doesn’t bode well for our collective future.

Covering local government, it has been my privilege to observe some people who are working hard to do their best for their communities.

I commend these people for their efforts. We just need a few more people to join them.

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