Are you a responsible person who lives in the Borough of Gettysburg?
If so, you should consider running for borough council.
Yes, you read that correctly.
To be fair, these opening lines pigeonhole the target audience of this article because it is the locality of my greatest concern—my own municipality. While serving the citizens of the borough on council has been an important experience for me, I will not be seeking re-election this year. I have the desire to become more involved in the leadership of the volunteer fire department, where I have served for many years, and I do not have the time continue as part of the borough’s leadership while pursuing that role. Further, after eight years I am concerned that my thoughts are beginning to become stale, and a fresh infusion of ideas would be good for the community.
Gettysburg is not alone in its need for citizens to step up. The problem is all too common across our area, and indeed, the entire United States. When teaching high school seniors, I often gave them this message, as they are or will be voting soon: going to the polls may not be enough. When there are seven or nine members of a borough council or school board in a relatively small community, you need to think about serving.
That term—serving—is important to understand, and the key to succeeding as a local elected official. People run for office for all sorts of reasons, and often at the onset those reasons are not immediately clear to the rest of community—or necessarily consciously considered by the candidate themselves.
Unfortunately, too many candidates are in races for their own enrichment, or that of their friends, or because they believe that the local government is the appropriate place to commence the latest national partisan crusade. I have seen both of these types, and over time, they grew frustrated.
While some would certainly disagree, in my opinion, local government is not the appropriate place to execute the next national political movement. Those arguments belong in the state houses and Washington, D.C.
Severely restricted in its options by state law, local government is rarely the exciting venue where those issues are decided. The commonwealth has purposefully kept many of those decisions from local officials.
Some people do strive to create dramatic moments.
However, if the local government is operating properly, those moments rarely occur, at least in a partisan manner.
The decisions are about which streets to pave, if any. How many employees to add or remove, if any. What fees and taxes should be charged and levied, if any.
Not exactly the makings of a charged partisan drama.
These topics are and should be considered political—but most are generally not partisan. While some would still argue that one political party seeks smaller government, so the number of employees is partisan, in most cases at the local level that is a stretch. What is really being decided in Adams County is whether or not the community wants basic services—streets to be plowed, permits to be issued, emergencies responded to.
Not everyone wants these services—and some municipalities locally barely have them—but in my experience, it is rarely a partisan discussion. It’s more about personal philosophy, local connections, and if someone has noticed an impact of having or not having said services.
You do not have to be some great political thinker or partisan zealot to serve in local government. In fact, the best local elected officials are often neither of these things.
What you need to be is a person who is honest, willing to read, willing to listen, able to think critically, able to treat people fairly, and able to put the community before yourself. Unfortunately, you also have to be willing to take a little heat when you are following your conscience. I will not sugar coat it—some of the insults that I have had leveled at me did not even make sense. I lost count of the lies told and written long ago. Those are unpleasant parts of the role—remember, it isn’t a job—unless you can live on $2,500 a year before taxes.
If I have not scared you away with the previous paragraph, you are responsible, and you meet the legal requirements—being a registered voter in the precinct and a resident of at least one year—you are a good candidate, whether you think so or not.
Please do not count on your neighbors to act affirmatively. Many good citizens rely on others to fill these roles. They are busy; they have a demanding career; they have children; they have other interests and endeavors.
The problem is that too many of us are counting on people that simply are not there.
American society has changed dramatically over the past several decades, and not all of these changes have been positive. The lack of citizens stepping up to serve at the local level, in government, community organizations, and otherwise, it one of the glaring deficiencies in our communities today.
If you are registered in a major political party, you have from February 14th to March 7th to circulate and file your nominating petition. If you are an independent or a member of a minor party (meaning they received no electoral votes in the 2020 presidential election), you have from March 8th to August 1st to circulate and file your nominating papers. Angie Crouse at the courthouse is a great resource, and has all of the paperwork that you need.
This has been my own personal appeal to the community. Please serve your peers. They need you.
Wesley K. Heyser is the president of the Gettysburg Borough Council and has served his community as a volunteer firefighter for more than two decades. Professionally, he taught American history and government for the past fifteen years.