“Voting for yourself is pretty crazy, a little surreal,” said senior Polly Dalton on her recent election as District 8 alderman for the city government. “When I went to vote, the election official said ‘I saw your name on the ballot!’”
Dalton was elected as an alderman April 1st, having already served a month on the position as an appointed member. Her district, which is south of the Fox River, encompasses around 5,000 residents.
“We’re invested with the power to legislate and regulate what is in the best interests of the city’s residents,” Dalton said. “The budget comes from property taxes paid by residents. We’re doing our best to make the greatest collective impact with the resources residents trust to the city staff.”
Alderpeople serve two year terms, and sit on various legislative committees. Dalton is on the municipal services committee that oversees the physical infrastructure of the city, including waste and sewage water management and street construction. She is also on the parks and recreation committee that manages green acreage and city-owned property.
At Lawrence, Dalton is majoring in environmental studies and government and has been involved in a variety of groups, serving as co-captain of the women’s tennis team, organizer of the annual CISA conference, and manager of the SLUG gardens.
“One of the greatest things I’ve developed in working and managing SLUG is explaining things to different types of people,” Dalton said. “Everyone captures different aspects of what you’re saying because we all have unique perspectives, so I’ve had to reiterate and explain and re-explain things in ways that gets the point across to different people.”
Dalton used these skills almost immediately as an alderperson.
“The first week I was on council, there was a proposal to implement bike lanes in my district, and all the neighbors were upset about it because it removed parking,” Dalton said. “The council is invested in the plan for multi-modal transportation, so we voted for it. It was something I believed passionately in. The proposal was a good way to open a conversation with people, and that’s been really rewarding throughout the whole process. Whether it’s on the council floor or with a constituent, I have to talk about different viewpoints in a civilized way and come up with reasons why I believe the things I do and articulate them, and not take disagreements as a personal thing.”
Before running for alderman, Dalton knew she was interested in being involved in city government, but wasn’t sure if she wanted to be an elected official or be on city staff. Her decision solidified when the past alderman for district 8 asked if she would be interested in running for the position. Dalton went door to door in the district to introduce herself and get the signatures required to be on the ballot.
“One of the reasons I decided to move forward was because I have my own vision of where Appleton could be in 20, 30 years, and I could see myself living here in 20, 30 years,” Dalton said. “I have a lot more flexibility with my time now, and I think it’s a powerful opportunity to make that investment in what your community can be for the future.”
Dalton is the youngest member on the 15-member council, something that has been both rewarding and challenging.
“There’s a perception that because I’m younger I don’t have experience or knowledge of how things work or how things are going to have to work, but I see my age as a benefit, as do my fellow younger alderpeople,” Dalton said. “I’m okay with challenging why we do things the way we do, and breaking that argument down, even if that means we come to the same end conclusion about the proper way to do things.”
In her free time, Dalton explores the city and her district on foot, bike, and rollerblades.
“I always love to start my day with a morning roller blade cruise along the river,” Dalton said. “It helps you to get to know the layout of the city. You get to know the streets and the neighbors. It’s a very human way to experience your environment.”
Dalton plans on staying in Appleton into the future, thankful for its strong social community.
“We recently redefined the definition of family in the zoning code and I was touched,” Dalton said. “I thought it was pretty true of my experience in Appleton.”