Soap operas are apparently waning in popularity, but I remember vividly when people seemed lost if they missed what they called their "stories" on television.
It may sound dorky, but I often think of the cablecasts of Urban County Council meetings as my own "story."
So it kind of upsets me to think that in this election year the races for the seats on that council may get lost in the excitement over a hotly contested mayoral race.
Will Lexington have an exciting downtown surrounded by beautiful farmland?
Will walkers, runners and cyclists be able to move safely around the community on trails and well-designed roads that accommodate them as well as motorists?
Will people who work at low-paying jobs in Lexington be able to find safe, affordable housing here?
Will all of us be safe from flooding streams, overflowing sewers and adequately protected by the police and fire departments?
These are the kinds of questions that the 15 members of the council answer. The council has final say on the city budget that sets our priorities. The council also enacts the local fees we pay and the laws that govern our community. For many citizens, council members are also the key to navigating the maze of city government.
And, as we've seen so many times, council can challenge the mayor's decisions on everything from special treatment for controversial development projects (read CentrePit, errrr Pointe) to closing fire stations to acquiring the water company.
Some tension between the council and the mayor and among council members is good and necessary. However, whether that tension results in empty fireworks or a productive vetting of public policy depends a lot on who occupies those council seats. It takes eight votes to pass something on the council, so an effective member must choose his or her battles, build alliances and develop well-reasoned positions.
There are 12 council members elected from districts to two-year terms. (To see the district maps and current council members go to: www.lexingtonky.gov/index.aspx?page=325.) Another three, called at-large members, run for four-year terms to represent the entire county. Of those three, the one who gets the most votes becomes vice mayor. That's how Vice Mayor Jim Gray got his job four years ago.
When the deadline for filing passed last week, only five districts had drawn two or more candidates. (Go to www.kentucky.com/179/story/1112438.html for details.) Everyone will have a chance to study the at-large field, with 10 people vying for the countywide spots. One of those will be our next vice mayor.
The mayor's race will be one of the most interesting in years. Jim Newberry, who won big over incumbent Teresa Isaac four years ago, faces Isaac herself and Gray. The competition should spur a real debate about what kind of community we want and how our government will help us get there.
My worry, though, is that that sexy contest will overshadow races for council positions. The council that takes office next January could be very different from the one we have now. We know there will be a new vice mayor.
It can be hard to follow council races, but you can do it. For incumbents, tune into GTV3 and watch council meetings. Pay attention to what members say, if they are prepared and how they conduct themselves.
That is, if they say anything. Sometimes one wonders why people want these jobs if they're just going to sit there and do nothing. Of course, there are others who seem to love the camera and talk without adding much to the discussion.
For challengers, it might be a little harder. This newspaper will have brief profiles of the candidates. Go to a forum or watch one on television. Read candidates' Web sites and printed materials critically.
Are they for anything or simply angry? Do they understand what city government can and should do? (For example, the city doesn't run the schools, so pledging to improve them — while admirable — is kind of an empty pledge.) Are their proposals realistic and specific or so general as to be meaningless? (For jobs? What does that mean? Who isn't?)
Think about what matters to you and then if a candidate knocks on your door or shakes your hand at an event ask him or her about those issues. Listen for real answers, not just platitudes. Ask follow-up questions. Then cast an informed vote in the council races.
It may seem like a lot of work, but it's worth it. It's your story, too.
Jacalyn Carfargno, a Lexington free-lance writer, is a former Herald-Leader editorial writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.