Orange County Branch Newsletter

January 2016

Government Relations Committee

Engineers Participate in Local Government!

By John Hamilton

Consider this a call for engineers to become more involved in local governments. The need is obvious, the benefits plentiful, and the abundant support may surprise you. As an engineer who has donated my time towards assisting a local government, I would like to accentuate the plea from Norman Augustine, retired Chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin, as he calls for support:

“Engineers – speak up and get involved.  . . . Does it make sense to have a lawyer be the decision-maker as to what kind of heart surgery a patient has? Or how to address the challenge of producing clean energy?  Or to deal with environmental change?  Or to create jobs in a high-tech economy? No, it doesn’t make sense to have people without a technical background serve as the sole decision-makers on substantially technical issues.”

My journey towards engaging in my local government began while I was searching for upcoming projects in my area. During my search, I came across an opening for a city commissioner and saw it as a great opportunity to play an active role in my community, volunteer my time, and expand my sphere of influence.

A commissioner holds a non-compensated position on a board of around five to seven within a city to serve as advisors to the city council. Commissioners provide the council with recommendations covering specific issues such as traffic, planning, neighborhood improvement, and appeals. These recommendations are vital components to the city’s decision-making process. To become a commissioner, at least for the city I work with, a candidate should have relevant experience and must be a resident of the city, be able to serve a two year term, and attend regularly scheduled meetings. After a short application process commissioners are appointed by the city council and mayor.

Some commissions are more active than others, depending on the needs of the city, but all are equally important. I found many unexpected benefits from my tenure. Among those benefits were invitations to various events happening within the city. The events included ground breakings, welcoming ceremonies, and many opportunistic events to meet-and-greet local politicians, legislators, and representatives. The hors d’oeuvres weren’t half bad either.

While there is a certain time commitment involved, most events and meetings have been held at hours convenient to those who work regular hours. I have been nothing but impressed and thankful for the support I have received from my team at Kimley-Horn in pursuing and maintaining my position as a city commissioner.

I highly encourage engineers to start keeping tabs on open positions in their local communities. There is an inarguable need for your expertise and perspectives on pressing issues in all of our communities. So again, I urge you to apply your engineering skills and jump at any opportunity you see to get more involved and truly make a difference within your local government.

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