The backbone of the local government in Yellow Springs is the five-person Council, staffed via staggered elections every two years. The Council oversees 11 different special-interest commissions including a Planning Commission, Board of Zoning Appeals, Arts and Culture Commission, Environmental Commission, and Community Access Panel (Village Council 2016). The Village Council is particularly efficient in Yellow Springs, and regularly coordinates efforts of local organizations to promote events centered around arts and the environment.
Flora and Flora identified three aspects of political capital within a community: 1) the ability of people in positions of power to effect real change, 2) access of community members to people in those positions of power, and 3) engagement and leadership activities geared toward citizens (Beaulieu 2014). While it is difficult to evaluate how meaningful citizen empowerment is within a community without speaking to people who are trying to stop a new development from being built, secure funds for a public park, or implement a town-run recycling initiative, it is possible to determine who the people with power and influence are in Yellow Springs. I will focus on the first element of the Floras’ definition. Who are the people who are able to access and mobilize people, resources, and information to “get things done” in the community?
Positionally, there’s Councilman Brian Housh, a Democrat (now running for one of Ohio’s House of Representatives spots) who has focused on fleshing out Yellow Springs’ community development and zoning policies while serving as a formal leader (Bischoff 2016). As so often happens, Housh was a reputational leader before he was elected to the Council: He was a non-elected leader in a number of different community institutions. Housh was the marketing director for the Yellow Springs Arts Council, sat on the board of the Yellow Springs Kids Playhouse, and owned his own local small business. Housh has access to other people in positions of power, as well. Aside from the obvious connections brought by serving on the Village Council, Housh’s brother is principal of the local elementary school. Other family members are small business owners in the community (Mann 2012).
Housh’s political capital is even stronger due to his involvement in organizations outside of the community, and the access to people and resources that this involvement brings. Housh is a policy manager for the national Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, an American Chamber of Commerce board member, and a committee member for Ohio’s Miami Valley Culture Connects 20/20 program (H2H Background 2016). Because Housh has access to these external resources, and because Housh serves on the Village Council, Yellow Springs citizens have some access to these external resources by proxy.