Tips for the wary municipal elections candidate

OPINION: Time is fast approaching for Ponoka (and Alberta) municipal elections. Time to get prepared.

Nomination day for Alberta’s municipal elections is just over five months away.

Not counting committee of the whole meetings (three) that’s a total of eight meetings before the Sept. 18 nomination day for the Town of Ponoka. Election day is Oct. 16 and a few months later it’s budget talks.

At this point anyone wishing to run for council may have a few solid reasons as to why they feel they can add something to benefit the community. Certainly they probably feel involved in some way, maybe even written down a few talking points on what’s important to them.

This is a great first step on the road to becoming an elected official. If you’re looking to hone those hopeful-to-be councillor muscles then taking a few extra steps to get ahead of the game can’t be a bad idea. Here’s a few ideas to help you get there.

Certainly ask your local councillors and mayor.

Don’t just ask the ones you like, ask the ones who you disagree with. This is a great exercise in speaking to someone with an opposing view to your own, something that will become commonplace if elected as a councillor. Better get a feel for it now before you surprise yourself and realize you don’t like it when someone disagrees with you.

Budgets, budgets and more budgets. It may seem like a broken record hearing discussions of budgets, but it really is an important part of being a councillor.

Seriously, if you struggle with capital and operational budgets then get thee to a budget seminar, and quickly. In a few short months after elections, the town will undergo budget deliberations. That takes at least two days and sometimes more.

That’s another thing, plan to take some time off away from work in order to get town work done. I remember one town councillor mention to me they had a resident state to them quite matter of fact that, “All councillors do is collect a paycheck.” With the exception of one or two that just isn’t the case, but people like to speak their mind when it comes to politics.

Councillors spend quite a bit of time on their job as elected officials. It isn’t just attending meetings. There’s background work, back and forth emails and committee work.

Committee and boards working behind the scenes for the benefit of the community have their meetings revolve around town council meetings and they provide town council with feedback or updates. Council once tried to change the date of committee of the whole meetings to another day of the week, it sent a ripple of change around the other committees and was eventually changed back.

Do you really want to be an agent of change for the Town of Ponoka? For reals? If the answer is ‘yes,’ then do your homework. You’re not doing the town any favours coming unprepared, in fact, you might just make things worse. The current elected officials running again for office will attest to the need for doing your homework, and so will the ones who are throwing in the towel.

This shoudn’t hinder you from taking on the job; you’re just setting yourself up for success if you do the background work. Plus, it’ll be good practice for being a councillor.

There are options for those looking to know more. Talk with the town, talk with councillors in other communities or take some of those courses (some are free) being offered by municipal affairs. Indeed, the ministry just offered up a program to help women become more involved in politics.

Thankfully some of that training will be a requirement due to changes in the Municipal Government Act (MGA). There’s something else you will need familiarize yourself with; the MGA.

It is the governance model that municipalities have to follow when doing business. That MGA training will help when first elected as it gives a councillor an opportunity to set themselves up with knowledge of the role.

Want to make a quick change to the town’s bylaws? Check the MGA. Want to be a councillor to ensure you benefit an immediate family member? You may want to take a look at the MGA on that, it’s frowned upon.

And remember, as a member of town council you will have an opportunity to shape the fate of this community for the better. A little homework to ensuring that it’s done right isn’t a bad thing. You’ll be able to look back at your time as councillor proudly and be able to walk on Ponoka’s streets with your head held high.

It’s about the legacy of your work and taking the steps to ensure that you do a good job is probably the best investment you’ll ever make. And residents will thank you for it.