You Just Got Elected! Now What?
With a lot of hard work (or some miracle) you just got elected to a municipal office in New York. Navigating the ins and outs of government service is a daunting task. Here are a few recommendations to help you get started.
Be teachable. There is a lot you don’t know. Be humble enough to understand that and determined enough to educate yourself.
- Review the municipality’s laws, rules and policies.
- Take the mandatory training for municipal officials.
- Review the Local Government Handbook put out by the NYSDOS Division of Local Government Services. This resource provides background information on everything from the history of government to financing mechanisms.
- Go to all the meetings. As a representative, you need to understand the workings of the other municipal boards. Go to a planning board meeting and a zoning board meeting. Meet with the chairs of those boards and make sure the lines of communication are open. Review the minutes of their meetings over the past year to learn about local issues and concerns.
- Use your resources. NYSDOS Division of Local Government Services provides reference material, online courses and videos for municipal officials. New York State Organizations like the Association of Towns, the New York Conference of Mayors and the New York State Town Clerks Association provide excellent training and assistance for municipal officials. Check out their annual conferences!
Don’t take bribes. That goes without saying. As a municipal official, you are a public officer and are held to a higher moral standard.
- Review your municipality’s Ethics Code.
- Be wary of conflicts of interest. Ask yourself whether your personal interests will impact how you accomplish your job.
- Review General Municipal Law Article 18.
- Stay clear of even an appearance of a conflict of interest.
- Recuse yourself from decisions involving you or your family.
- Do not solicit gifts.
- Do not accept a gift having a value of $75 or more.
- Do not disclose confidential information you obtained as a municipal officer.
Familiarize yourself with the municipality’s Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy and take the mandatory training.
- New York passed significant anti-sexual harassment legislation in 2018 and 2019 that require each employer to prepare a Sexual Harassment Prevention Policy and provide annual training on sexual harassment. For more information visit the State’s website.
Commit yourself to government in the sunshine. New York is dedicated to transparency in government.
- Review procedures for conducting meetings. The NYSDOS Department of Local Government Services has an online course on this.
- Understand that, with only a few exceptions, meetings of a majority of a board have to be public with appropriate notice.
- Review the Opening Meetings Law (Article 7 of the Public Officer’s Law) for meeting notice requirements and the appropriate reasons and procedures for conducting an executive session. Don’t schedule executive sessions in advance.
- Make sure good meeting minutes are kept and uploaded to the municipal website regularly.
Being elected comes with a steep learning curve. Surround yourself with good advisors. Meet with the municipal attorney to learn about your municipality’s current challenges and opportunities. Your attorney can provide training and guidance on numerous aspects of governance.