How to Run for City Council – Paperwork

Ah, the bane of my existence, paperwork.  I hate the seemingly endless stream of paperwork that accompanies running for office.  The good news, if you’re running for city council, is that the train-wreck of federal campaign finance laws don’t apply to you.  However, your city, county and state will likely have it’s own requirements.

The first and most important thing I must mention up front – there is no way I can write a post detailing every piece of paperwork you will be required to do because each town and state will have its own particular procedure.  Therefore it is imperative that you march yourself right down to your local city building and ask them to have mercy on your soul and help you out.

A few tips on interacting with the friendly folks in the clerk’s office:

  • Always kill them with kindness. Clerk is also an elected person, which means this is a partisan office, despite needing to serve candidates from both parties.  Generally they are open and helpful to everyone (it would be unlawful if they didn’t help you because you were from the opposing party), but sometimes you run into employees with a particular ax to grind.  Simply be sweet and persistent with these folks until you get what you need.
  • Don’t be afraid to ask ‘stupid’ questions.  Government forms are rarely easy to understand.  If you have any question at all about what’s required of you for a particular form, ask for clarity.  Make sure you are 100% sure of what’s required, because if you screw it up, it could be disastrous.
  • Always be very grateful for their help!  Friendships formed with the people in the Clerk’s office are priceless.  I am not above bringing them treats and sending thank you cards to these fine folks!

Unfortunately, the paperwork for running for local office is not universal – every municipality will have its own requirements, but luckily there is a basic framework that most towns and cities adhere to.  Here’s a list of the common forms and paperwork you’ll likely have to file:

  • Declaration of Candidacy or Nomination Papers – the first form you must fill out, your declaration that you intend to run for city council.  You may or may not be required to collect signatures in order to officially get your name on the ballot.
  • Bank Account – this isn’t one for the city clerk’s office, but you’ll need to open a separate bank account for campaign related fundraising and spending.  I put it here because you’ll want the ‘name’ of your campaign and the ‘name’ on the bank account to match, to avoid any confusion.  I recommend a simple “John Doe for City Council.”  Don’t try to get fancy, you don’t want to make writing a check out to you more difficult than necessary.
  • Campaign Finance Reports – these will likely need to be done before and after the primary election, and before and after the general.  It could also be on a quarterly basis.  Ideally some math whiz kid is tracking every dollar raised and spent in an Excel spreadsheet and can do the majority of the work on these forms for you, but you need to make sure you are aware and in agreement with the final numbers (because it’s your butt on the line, no one else’s).

All in all it’s pretty simple, and yet still so easy to screw up.  Don’t be afraid to ask the folks at the Clerk’s office to look over your paperwork before you officially turn in it to verify you checked all the right boxes, signed in all the right places, etc.  Make extra certain everything on the form is 100% accurate.  You want to catch any errors before your opponent or the media does.

The first step (after reading this article) is to do an internet search for “file to run” or “candidacy” or some similar key words with the name of your town.  Chances are the information you need, and maybe even the forms, are available online.  You’ll find out exactly where you need to go and who you need to shmooze to get your paperwork through without hassles.  If you can’t find info online, it’s time to pound the pavement.  Start at your town’s Clerk’s office, as that’s very likely where you need to file, and if it’s not, they can tell you where.  Sometimes filing to run for city council requires a trip to the county voter registration office, but not in most cases.

What are you waiting for?  Get going!

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