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Viewpoints: Brother Rogers on Why Local Elections Are Important

A few months ago, we began a new series on the Starkville Insider… Viewpoints, an opportunity for us to share the unique perspectives of people who are impacting Starkville and Oktibbeha County in positive ways. We’ve been seeking out residents, business folks, leaders and other influencers to find out their views of the Starkville community — in their own words!

With our Power Breakfast Candidate Meet & Greet coming up, we were interested in a perspective on why local elections are important. We turned to Brother Rogers, an expert on building leadership in the public sphere. Rogers interfaces with both elected officials and their staff members through his work with the Stennis Center for Public Service. He is also a regular columnist for the Starkville Daily News. Here’s what he had to share...

VIEWPOINT: Why Local Elections Are Important
by Brother Rogers

flags_chester2015 is an election year in Mississippi.  Yawn.  The primary is August 4, and the general election is November 3. Snooze. While we have some type of election every year, this year is when all eight statewide elected officials and all county officers, and members of the Legislature, will be on the ballot.  What?  That sounds important and it is!

Most elections have slogans so here’s one:  Don’t Snooze but Choose!

Most of us pay attention when voting for president, U.S. senator, or governor, but local elections are just as important.  County government has a major impact on our everyday lives, and we get to choose who runs our county.

The five-member Board of Supervisors is the chief policy making body for Oktibbeha County.  These elected officials make decisions at every meeting about how to spend our local tax dollars.  While they still are responsible for construction and repair of county roads, they do much more.  Supervisors make decisions that impact economic development, education, and health care.

A good analogy would be the board of directors of a multi-million dollar corporation.  We as voters need to give attention to who we select as if we were choosing someone to run a Fortune 500 company.  For example, all of us or someone in our family has used the services of OCH Regional Medical Center.  The future of that facility is impacted by decisions of the Board of Supervisors.

The jobs of sheriff, chancery clerk, circuit clerk, and justice court judge are all important. The sheriff is the chief law enforcement official in the county.  The chancery clerk keeps records for the Board of Supervisors and the Chancery Court, and in addition is the administrator of federal funds in the county. The circuit clerk keeps records for the Circuit Court and serves as the voter registrar.  The circuit clerk keeps marriage licenses, the jury lists, civil and criminal trial dockets, and helps citizens with services, such as ordering a passport.

Oktibbeha County has three justice court judges, who are all elected.  This local court is often called the “people’s court” since the judges hear common cases involving disputes of less than $3,500 and various misdemeanor offenses.  Let’s say an MSU student skips town without paying his last month of rent to a landlord.  The landlord can sue the student in justice court to be made whole.

Of course, our local representation in the Mississippi Legislature affects statewide issues, but also local issues such as school consolidation and state funding for Mississippi State University.

With so many local races on the ballot, we as citizens must do our duty to stay informed.  We often speak of responsibilities that go along with our rights. Being an informed voter is the first responsibility of good citizenship.

Does one vote really matter?  In Starkville’s last municipal election, two candidates for alderman tied in the first round of voting.  One additional vote could have swung that election either way, and the winner of that race certainly has impacted the Board of Aldermen.

Can you imagine Starkville today without a lighted Sportsplex for youth soccer and softball?  The money to build that facility was decided by a public referendum.  The measure passed by less than ten votes.

Local elections matter because local issues affect us the most.  Local issues get decided by local elected leaders.  We the people have a voice in who leads us once every four years.  The least we can do is show up at the polls on Election Day ready to cast our ballot as an informed citizen.  Remember, don’t snooze but choose!