By Diane Wagner
Two years ago, Hampton resident Mike Tomarchio paid a $54 qualifying fee and became a city councilman.
Sometimes it's just that easy.
Every two years the cities in Henry and Clayton counties hold elections for some, or all, of their council seats. While it's not always possible to walk into a seat unopposed like Tomarchio did, there is help and encouragement available for people who want to play a role in their local government.
"The forms are pretty much self explanatory and we give (candidates) a lot of information when they come in," Jonesboro City Clerk Joanie Jones said. "Last time we had a couple of new ones, so it was kind of exciting. We don't know how it's going to turn out this year, but we're looking forward to it."
Candidates for the Nov. 4 general election must qualify at the appropriate city hall between 8:30 a.m. on Sept. 8 and 4:30 p.m. Sept. 12. State law sets the qualifying fee at 3 percent of the position's annual salary.
"I really wish more people would get involved in their local governments," Henry County Commission Chairman Leland Maddox said. "A lot don't get involved until something is about to happen on their back doorstep, and a lot of times it's too late then."
Outrage at a current situation or frustration over a lack of improvements is often the fuel that sparks a candidacy.
McDonough resident John Gant rallied his neighbors against a proposed subdivision and came back to the government arena when a seat on the McDonough City Council became available. Gant lost to another newcomer, Monta Brown, but Brown appointed his opponent to the city's planning and zoning commission.
A seat on the planning and zoning commission in 1963 launched Morrow City Councilman Charles Sorrow's political career.
"People who are interested in running for office need to attend council meetings and get to know other people," Sorrow said. "They need to let the council members know how they feel about things and get their name out there."
HOW TO RUN
In 2002, Kennesaw State University and Clark Atlanta University teamed up on The Candidate Training Project, a free program designed to teach candidates for local and state office the basics of running an effective and ethical campaign.
For information about applying for this year's program, set for Oct. 10 and 11, call Patrick Burns at (770) 423-6464 or visit the Web site at www.kennesaw.edu/burruss_inst/candidatetraining.html.
Sessions cover areas from ethics, message-development and media relations to fundraising and getting out the vote.
Maddox, whose first foray into politics was a successful run for the state Legislature, said a core group of committed supporters is crucial to a campaign.
"One person can't get elected by himself," he said. "But if you get out in the community, if you find someone the people like and respect to work in your campaign and get 10 people out knocking on doors every day for you, you'll most likely get elected."
WHETHER TO STAY
More than anything, though, a political career takes a commitment from the candidate?and a thick skin.
"It takes a special person to do it these days," said McDonough Mayor Richard Craig. "The public is on you so strong. They think everyone's a crook, taking bribes, but in all my years I've never seen it."
In addition to the public, there are relationships to be forged with other elected officials. Sorrow said not all governing bodies work together as well as the Morrow City Council.
"We have the most cooperative council in the state," he said. "There's none of this bickering you see in so many cases. When that happens, you don't get anything done."
But, in the end, the old pros agree that it's all worth it to play a part in making their communities better.
"I think our city has come a long way in the past few years and I'm proud of what we've done," Craig said.