1. This may come off as “elitist,” but I’m sorry: We need people who are smart. The issues are complicated. Council members need to dig in. Reports most always raise more questions than they answer. They need to read, call experts, ask questions and set up meetings. In addition to being able to comprehend things, it’s important that the candidates be able to clearly express themselves, especially in writing.
I would ask the voter: Look at the candidate’s background. See what they’ve done, professionally.
2. I would ask the candidate: “How much time, per week, can you devote to the position?” Serious contenders should be prepared to spend fifteen hours per week, at a minimum. Sorry, but that’s the job. Don’t take it if you don’t have the time. This doesn’t include the three Council meetings per month. You can also count on at least three other evening meetings per month.
The Mayor’s workload is twice this!
3. Look for the candidate to have had positions of leadership. Leadership within a sizable volunteer or non-profit organization is good. Unlike corporate management jobs, as an elected official you don’t have the power to order people around. You accomplish through persuasion and through collaboration.
4. Financial Responsibility. A person who has had responsibility and accountability for controlling income and expenses will have more sensitivity to our issues.
5. Numeracy. You have to understand “numbers.” You have to wade through inches thick documents and be able to do analysis. I am constantly amazed at how a report will be presented to the Council and numbers won’t add, or assumptions will be wrong. The absence of basic statistical thinking is stunning. Two points don’t make a trend we were taught in 7th grade, for example.
6. Proven ability to set goals, priorities, and tactics. You can’t just address the easily solvable problems. You must recognize and be willing to attack the big problems. You can’t spend an hour Council meeting reviewing sewer grate designs when the budget has yet to be passed. For that matter, you need to say, “it’s not my job to evaluate sewer grates.”
7. Ability to pursue the electorate’s agenda, not your own. Don’t take this job because you want to implement a personal agenda. We’ve seen it. It doesn’t work.
8. Great work ethic. Drive for accomplishment. You need follow through. You will get a lot of input that makes no sense. You have to be driven to resolve it.
9. Have you been a member of a commission, e.g. planning or zoning board, etc. In you’ve served in Montclair it’s a plus, but even experience from other towns would be helpful. This will give the candidate some inkling of what he or she is getting into.
10. Ask the candidate: “How many council meetings have you attended over the last four years, in the last six months?” A serious commitment to the town should have started a long time ago, not when you decided to run for office.
11. Ask the candidate “Do you have children in the public schools? Have you had children in the public schools here, or in other towns?”
12. Sorry to tell you this, but the Internet isn’t a passing fad. And, yes, you are going to have to learn how to use email. And word processing. And no, we won’t give you “hard copies” of all this. Surrounding towns have all gone paperless, some decades ago.
14. Any special work experience? Legal, corporate finance, planning, environmental, and development are all pluses.
And, apologies to the protesters, but experience in financial services would be a plus. For many reasons, not the least of which is an ability to throw yourself into work for as long as necessary to get the job done.
And, don’t hit me, but having an MBA is also a “plus.”