Okay, so you've already quit smoking, lost weight and become a better person. What next? If you're looking for a meaningful New Year's resolution, we've got just the idea -- serve your town.

Okay, so you've already quit smoking, lost weight and become a better person. What next? If you're looking for a meaningful New Year's resolution, we've got just the idea -- serve your town.{sidebar id=4}

Election season is just around the corner and there are plenty of positions that need capable civic-minded candidates. School committee and selectmen are two high-profile choices, but there are plenty of "down-ballot" offices where you can also make your mark. The running-for-office part is easy. The real work comes when you win, but first let's clear up a few misconceptions:

• Running for office is not expensive. Newspaper ads are always appreciated, but there are plenty of opportunities for "free media" too. The Clipper sponsors a candidate forum each year in the mural Room at Town Hall. We also publish an election supplement that will help you get the word out. And of course there are plenty of other ways to get the message out without spending a dime, neighborhood coffee hours being a prime example. Heck if you just hang out at the transfer station, er...recycling center, you'll pick up plenty of votes.{sidebar id=1}

• Home-made signs are just fine. In fact, if you're running for school committee or library trustee it's practically mandatory that you enlist the help of your children to design a colorful hand-made sign. Drawing outside the lines is just fine. If you want to go with professional signs that works, too, but just remember if you put them on lawns you're flaunting a town tradition (a purely unofficial tradition by the way, legally nothing prevents you from putting political messages on private property.)

• It's okay to challenge an incumbent -- even if they are a really nice person. Competition is good and competitive races bring out the best in everyone. Challengers often bring issues to the fore that might not otherwise be aired. And challengers force incumbents to keep on their toes.

If you're still hesitant keep in mind there's really no downside. If you win, pat yourself on the back and put that electoral fervor to work for the good of our town. If you lose, savor the sense of pride you'll feel having entered the arena. You may find that once sparked your civic pride will take you in new directions.

Fifty certified signatures are all that is required to get on the ballot. With the return of Foodie's that shouldn't take more than 30 minutes on a Saturday morning.

The deadline to submit nomination papers is Feb. 4. So don't just stand there, run.

--- J. Cutler