Sunday, April 22, 2007


One of the truths of our civic culture is that there are two distinct groups of citizens. In one group we have those who are willing to seek office to serve their community and the other group is made up of those of us who observe the first. Clearly, both groups are necessary for our system to work but we should acknowledge that it takes a lot of courage to be in the first group.

What if there were an election and nobody was on the ballot? Not very likely you say because there are always those who are willing to be group one folks. I guess that’s been true, and anyway it’s probably more likely that there could be an election and too few came out to vote. But it takes real bravery to sign on to be in group one and no courage at all to not participate in the electoral process.

How would you decide whether to run for office? After deciding to run what else do you have to do to enhance your chances of success? That is such a good question that the Community Action Network (CAN) decided to sponsor another free and nonpartisan campaign and elections workshop that will be held at the Chapel Hill Town Council chambers on Saturday April 28th from 10 a.m. to Noon. Registration is not required.

The workshop will cover running for the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, the Chapel Hill Town Council, the Orange County Board of Commissioners, the Hillsborough Town Council and the two school boards in Orange County. Those interested in running, as well as those just interested in working on a campaign, are the prime target audience.

Here is how it will work. The workshop will have three components. The first will consist of questions from moderator Rosemary Waldorf (former Chapel Hill Mayor) directed to a panel of former elected officials and volunteer campaign workers. The questions will focus primarily on deciding to run for office, campaign staffing, scheduling, financing, publicity, election laws, and the use of technology. In the second component, members of the audience will be able to participate directly by asking questions of the panel members.

The panel members scheduled to participate are Nick Didow, a former Chapel Hill-Carrboro School Board member; Steve Halkiotis, a former Orange County Commissioner; Susan Halkiotis, a former Orange County School Board member; Tom Jensen, a recent UNC-CH graduate who has been active in a number of local campaigns; Thomas Mills, a political consultant; Ruby Sinreich, a former candidate for Chapel Hill Town Council and a computer technology usage expert; and Allen Spalt, a former Carrboro Board of Aldermen member. Others may be added in the run-up to the workshop.

After the panel discussion and questions from the audience, panel members will break into several small informal groups. Participants will have the opportunity to discuss specific questions that they have and follow up on topics that were covered in the first two components. The last time that CAN sponsored the workshop, the small groups were very popular and the added benefit was that participants were able to establish relationships with the former office seekers and campaign workers.

There will be some useful information to take home, as CAN has prepared a resource packet. It will include basic information about how to file for elections, samples of reports required by the Orange County Board of Elections, and a campaign activity timeline.

Why is CAN doing this? As a nonprofit membership organization that advocates for the general public interest, the board sees this activity as a perfect way to increase public awareness of this critical civic activity. Additionally, no organization other than CAN has done a similar workshop so it fills a need. Several attendees at the last workshop did in fact run for office and thought that the workshop was useful.

Since it might be difficult for some to get to Town Hall on a Saturday morning, the session can be seen in real time on Chapel Hill cable channel 18 and it will be rebroadcast on future dates on the People’s Channel.

I hope that many people come to the free workshop or watch it on TV. I also hope that more than a few people in Orange County will be motivated, after some serious thinking and analysis, to seek office. Having a good pool of candidates means that we will continue to have good political leadership. After all, we have some tough policy issues to navigate.

Just as CAN has tried to be “a positive force for positive action” in the Orange County community, having positive individuals who are willing to serve us is a good thing; having to choose from a slate of many good candidates is an even better thing!

Fred is the past chair and a current board member.
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