Dan Schebler, Guest columnist
Published 7:00 a.m. CT Nov. 28, 2020

This has certainly been a trying year…we have experienced wildfires, hurricanes, tornadoes and tropical storms in addition to living with a pandemic. On top of all that, the recent election cycle has further exacerbated the divisions evident in our nation, which makes it is easier to understand why most Americans aren’t interested in engaging with their government. However, it is important to remember not to let national politics diminish your desire to learn about local issues. Staying engaged at the local level can be time consuming, but it is your ticket to effecting change you want to see.

Your local officials determine the policies and set the priorities that affect you the most. They influence the spending of your tax dollars and are directly responsible for many areas that touch your daily life. It’s vital that our residents have a full understanding of the decisions being made in their county and there are many opportunities to get involved. Counties – and cities – encourage residents to participate in local government by joining citizen advisory committees, giving feedback on plans, reviewing agenda items to be discussed and attending meetings to provide input on decisions being made. 

If your county government is smaller than most – as is Santa Rosa County – staff and officials seek your help to be aware of local needs. One example is that we have over 1,500 miles of county-maintained roads and just over 100 staff in our road and bridge department, so traveling each mile of roadway daily – even weekly – is not practical, which is why we rely on our residents to let us know about minor maintenance needs, like potholes. We have an online form that allows the public to submit issues 24/7/365 directly to the staff who will schedule that work request. We appreciate this valuable citizen input; making a county department aware of a need is the quickest way to fix a problem.

Here are a few of specific additional opportunities in Santa Rosa County:

Volunteer: at the animal shelter, at the extension services, in one of our libraries, or your local volunteer fire department. 

Serve: on the Affordable Housing Advisory Committee (two vacancies), Aviation Advisory Committee, Bagdad Architectural Advisory Board (one vacancy), Building Board of Adjustment (one vacancy) Citizens’ Advisory Task Force, Civil Service Board (one vacancy), Library Advisory Committee (one vacancy), Local Option Sales Tax Oversight Committee (two vacancies), Local RESTORE Council (two vacancies), Marine Advisory Committee, Parks and Recreation Committee, Tourist Development Council, or the Zoning Board (one vacancy). 

Learn: watch a meeting online or attend in person, subscribe to our news releases, follow us on social media, participate in surveys for planning efforts, and give feedback on draft plan proposals.

Communicate: and share your priorities during the strategic plan process that will start at the beginning of 2021. During the budget development process a few years ago, the county adopted a revised mission and vision statement. Mission: Serving our community – committed to excellence. Vision: To be an extraordinary community which embraces opportunity, treasures our natural environment, and provides the best in public service to enable success and security in the future. 

We want you to know, we are here to serve you. When you have a concern, schedule an appointment to meet with staff or your district commissioner, send an email, make a phone call or attend a board meeting to speak to the board at public forum. In Santa Rosa County, commissioners are elected at large which means each resident gets to vote on each commissioner regardless of the district they represent. Your commissioners represent all the residents of Santa Rosa County and we encourage you take the opportunity to get to know them, and let them get to know you.

Dan Schebler is Santa Rosa County administrator.

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