Why municipal government matters

Phoenix City Hall (Aubree Abril/DD)
Phoenix City Hall
(Aubree Abril/DD)

Last week, the City of Phoenix held its biennial City Council election to choose council members for council districts 2, 4, 6 and 8. Voter turnout was higher than normal this year, at about 22.6 percent of registered voters. At first glance, this seems really low. Compare it to 18.6 percent in September 2007, and this year was a marked improvement.

Why does it matter?

In school, from elementary school to high school to college, we all learn about the federal government and state government, what they do and how they work. It’s much more difficult to learn about municipal government because all cities work differently. Some, like Phoenix, are divided into districts, each with one representative on a city council. Others have city or town councils elected at large. Some, like Phoenix, hold elections in the fall of odd-numbered years, and some have elections in the spring of even-numbered years. Others align their elections with state and federal elections in the fall of even-numbered years.

These elections, which receive much less of our attention than their larger state and national counterparts, can have a much more immediate effect on our lives.

Cities collect waste. They make our transportation systems work. They manage our parks and other local facilities. They provide resources for public safety.

The City of Phoenix has an operating budget of $3.5 billion citywide. This budget funds our public safety systems, libraries, transit, parks and recreation, public works and more. The people we elect to the city council decide how that operating budget is used.

At least once every month, the Phoenix City Council has a formal meeting where individuals can comment. The City of Phoenix also has 62 boards and commissions that are made up of local residents and provide input to the mayor, City Council and various city departments.

We spend a lot of time learning about the people we elect to Congress and the presidency. Sometimes we forget about the people that make decisions that are much closer to home.

The City of Phoenix will be holding a runoff election Nov. 5 to elect the council members in council districts 4 and 8. The last day to register to vote in this election is Monday, Oct 7.

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