Even for the most prepared candidates there can, and usually is, a huge difference between campaigning and governing. Campaign promises are often made based on principle and a narrow understanding of what the position the candidates are running for entails. We caught up with newly elected OKC City Council members Bradley Carter and Barbara Young on the 1 month anniversary of their swearing in, to give us some insight on the real difference between campaigning and governing. We think you’ll enjoy what they had to say.
IL: What have you learned since being sworn in that surprised you?
BC: “What an amazing support staff we have in city government. The servant’s hearts of everyone that works at city hall are truly an inspiration. They serve because they truly love this city and want to see it be the best city in the country. My direct support staff has been a Godsend! This has been a HUGE learning experience. More like learning from a fire hydrant than a fire hose. However, they have done an amazing job helping me understand the nature of my role as a city councilman, and what I can and cannot do. I don’t know where I would be without them. It almost a bit unfair that we, as city councilmen and councilwomen, get all of the public recognition when it’s the city hall staff that truly makes the city run. They deserve much more credit than they get.”
BY: “That the tenure of the city hall employees is significant…and that’s a very good thing. Considering the city council positions are truly part time (though they could easily be a full-time position), it is enormously helpful to have a long-tenured staff that knows the inner-workings of city government. The city staff are enormously helpful with making sure we have the information and support necessary to do our jobs well.”
IL: How is it different than you expected?
BC: “I think I didn’t realize how little control the city council truly has over the inner workings of the city. We are absolutely barred by the city charter from controlling or even influencing city employees in any way. I also didn’t realize how small of a voice one councilman or councilwoman actually has. No one councilman or councilwoman can appoint anyone to a position. In fact, the council as a whole only appoints 4 positions: the city manager, the city attorney, the city auditor, and municipal judges. Everything else is handled by the city manager…who is absolutely amazing at what he does!”
BY: “Given that I’ve already worked in city government as a 911 dispatcher, it really isn’t any different than I expected. The one thing that did really surprise me, however, is how desperately the OCPD needs more officers. Between low recruitment classes and early retirement, the department is sorely understaffed. It creates a real problem when sending officers out on calls, because there truly isn’t enough officers to cover everything if dispatch has a particularly busy day. This is something that desperately needs to be addressed.”
IL: What is the biggest difference between campaigning and governing?
BC: “In campaigning, talk is cheap. It’s very easy to say ‘if I get in I’ll do this and I’ll do that.’ In governing, actions speak louder than words. You have to follow through on the promises you made.”
BY: “As one might expect, the complexity of the conversations expands exponentially. When you’re on the campaign trail knocking on doors, you’ve got to limit your conversations to about 5 minutes most of the time. So you really can’t go much deeper than surface-level. However, when you’re actually elected and doing the job, those same conversations start to take on a whole different depth. It’s not just a 5-minute conversation anymore. Now you have to consider all of the possible unintended consequences of a particular policy or decision. Sometimes there can be literally hundreds of different aspects you have to consider on any given subject, and that’s just between 3:00pm and 4:00pm on a Wednesday. There are no easy answers in this job. And someone is always unhappy within the answer ”
IL: What is the one thing you would tell potential candidates for city council?
BC: “In this city government, everyone has an agenda, however most everyone genuinely wants the best for the city…even Mayor Holt. We may have very different philosophical ideas on how to get there, but in the end we all want OKC to be the best place in America to live. Obviously I have a very different worldview from some of the people on the council, but I’m happy to say that I’ve been able to have real, constructive conversations with everyone I’ve talked to. It reminds me of the Reagan era, when we as American’s all wanted America to be successful, we just had very different beliefs on how to make that happen. That kind of healthy debate is not just good for the country, but good for this city as well.”
BY: “It’s never too soon to start making connections within the community, with existing council members, and really get to know the area that you’ll be running in. The people the places there are so many great ones around OKC and our neighboring communities.”