Next week, the Casper City Council will pick a new member. Chris Walsh recently resigned from the governing body, opening a position for new council member to represent Ward III, which encompasses the city’s east side.
Thirteen people submitted applications to serve out the remainder of Walsh’s term, which began in January. Four of those applicants are former city council members.
It’s inspiring to see so many people interested in participating in local government. Our city is best served when its citizens are actively engaged in its governance.
As an editorial board, we will not be endorsing any of the 13 applicants. But we will offer one suggestion to the City Council ahead of its decision: Now is the time to broaden the character of the council to more accurately reflect the changing face of the community.
We applaud the past council members who have applied for Walsh’s seat. They’ve dedicated countless hours to serving our city. But what our city would most benefit from at this point in time are fresh voices and ideas from people with different backgrounds and experiences to broaden the perspectives of the eight people who now comprise the council membership.
To be clear, there is nothing wrong with being an experienced political hand, someone who’s spend years working in local government. But there are already several current members of the council that fit that bill and can provide the wise leadership that comes with being a political veteran.
At the same time, the current membership of the council underrepresents parts of our community. Most notably, only one women now sits on the City Council. And the council has few young members. Walsh’s departure offers an opportunity to start addressing this situation.
Some might ask, why does that matter? Why seek out a broader mix of backgrounds?
If the task of the City Council is to best represent the people who live in Casper, then it’s essential for its members to understand the lives, desires and challenges of the people who make the Oil City their home. All of us have an understanding that comes from our own experiences. Similarly, we have blind spots that exist through the life events we don’t encounter.
For example, if you were born in 1946, you probably haven’t experienced the challenge of raising children to be smart and savvy users of the internet. You might not understand the difficulties of keeping kids from making poor choices with their social media use in an era where smart phones and WiFi are ubiquitous.
Similarly, if you were born in 1996, you might not understand the difficulties of navigating a world that now takes it for granted that you will buy your plane tickets, your housewares and even your groceries online when you prefer to communicate on a landline.
The solution is to have both perspectives. Similarly, a council that’s more representative of our city as a whole is more likely to better understand the challenges that its citizens face.
When it selects a new member next week, the City Council has a chance to fill in a blind spot. It has an opportunity to bring a broader, richer understanding of our community into its deliberations. We encourage the council to take advantage of this opportunity.