Many people believe that politics and government are far removed from their daily lives. Some people’s only exposure to civic involvement might be when a candidate knocks on their door. However there is another easy way to get involved locally. Towns and cities have commissions and committees that work on projects and are responsible for administering regulations in a wide variety of areas. This means that you can often find one that fits your skills and interests. In my home town of Wethersfield the members of these committees are people found and recruited by the political committees and then their appointments are usually confirmed by the town council. It is not often easy to find people to serve, so once a seat opens it is not hard for most citizens to get some kind of appointment.
Since I have had an interest in energy and environment law I have served on my town’s Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Commission for the past five years. The nice thing about the commission is that although the appointments are made by the parties the conduct is not at all partisan. The commission is made up of lawyers, engineers, and others that have some kind of background in environment law. It is our responsbility to review and approve plans for development in and around the wetlands in town, and the 100-year floodplain. When I started the town provided me with a manual and paid to send me to a training to interpret the maps they send us in our weekly packets. When I started I was intimidated since I did not have a civil engineering background but slowly gained comfort as I realized people had different areas of expertise and I learned what to look for. As I gained comfort I have been able to better formulate questions for the applicants and catch red flags.
So if you have not been involved in your town or city before I recommend contacting your town or city clerk and asking how you can get appointed to a commission you are interested in. You will meet people from both sides of the political aisle that care about their community and also get to participate in your local government. Think of it as an advanced civics class.