Get Involved: FCS and Local Government
Anderson, Carol L., Journal of Family and Consumer Sciences
Get involved! What better way to further your understanding of policy than to hold an elected office and apply knowledge learned over the years as decisions are made? From an early age, the political scene has been of interest to me and this has resulted in research and action throughout the years. Growing up in a state (Wisconsin) with a rich history of valuing citizen engagement that adheres to the Jeffersonian philosophy that the foundation of democracy lies in the communities and local governance, it felt natural to explore involvement in county government. The challenge to run for elected office was accepted when a county supervisor decided to retire and there was encouragement from people in the district.
The first 2-year term (2008-2010) was a learning experience and an opportunity to examine options for applying the family and consumer sciences (FCS) body of knowledge in making decisions. After all, FCS professionals address the complexity of the reciprocal relationships among individuals, families, communities, and the many environments in which they function throughout their life spans (Accreditation Documents for Undergraduate Programs in Family and Consumer Sciences, 2010). The adequate provision of basic human needs from holistic and synergistic perspectives is a critical component in the body of knowledge and a responsibility of county government. Policies, laws, and regulations should establish frameworks for actions that support the well-being of individuals, families, and communities.
A strong connection between the FCS body of knowledge and the mission of county/local government becomes evident when examining specific issues. For example, the mission of the Iowa County Wisconsin county government "is to protect and promote the health and safety, economic well being, and environmental quality of our county by providing essential services in a fiscally responsible manner."
Committees are critical to the operation of county government because employees and elected officials ideally become partners in making recommendations on targeted issues and promoting specific decisions. Two of the seven committees I have served (and continue to serve) on are Justice and Administrative Services. Justice includes a range of services from the sheriffs office (law enforcement) to the judge (judicial). The Administrative Services Committee focuses primarily on personnel and finances, including the annual budget process. An ongoing struggle for supervisors is to engage in policy decisions so that county employees have direction for management of programs. Frequently, supervisors attempt to engage in management of programs rather than assuming the role for which they are elected. An example of engaging in policy decisions found the Justice Committee collaborating with both the sheriff and judge to explore alternatives and related costs to reduce incarceration when substance abuse (alcohol and drugs) is a key factor in men and women making poor decisions. Alleviating the contributing factors, including job skills, requires more creativity than locking someone in the jail for a period of time.
The last county election (Spring 2010) highlighted how disenfranchised, distanced, and confused many of the residents throughout the county have felt. After the 2010 election, of the 21 members on the board, 11 were new. Many of the newly elected members came to the responsibility with a single agenda and limited knowledge of the processes for making changes. They had difficulty understanding their role as a policy-maker and envisioned their role as managing the county departments rather than establishing policies and regulations that guide decisions made by the county administrator, department heads, and staff.
In today's environment of local governance, it is imperative that three challenges be resolved.
Challenge I-Creating a Shared Vision
In a polarized environment, creating a shared vision is difficult. …