Candidates for Ponoka town council got the inside scoop on what it means to be an elected official.
Town of Ponoka administration hosted a special information session for candidates Sept. 7 at the Kinsmen Community Centre that highlighted what governance actually is as well as changes coming down the pipeline for the Municipal Government Act.
Attendees were given a short introduction to town directors and top staff, and their roles within the town, and then had a chance to hear from Lacombe Mayor Steve Christie who is retiring from public office.
After 13 years on council — six as a councillor and seven as mayor — Christie’s first bit of advice was to not run if there is only one issue a candidate wants to change.
“If you’re running for one purpose. Don’t do it. Four years is a long time,” stated Christie.
His biggest point was that being a councillor should be fun and added that if that one thing gets done within the first year of a councillor’s term, it will be a long time before the term is over.
For those new to being councillor, that first year will be like hitting a wall. It’s a time for learning.
“This extra year in this term is incredible,” said Christie referring to the provinces change to four year terms rather than three.
Having a fourth year is beneficial as that last year councillors really know what’s going on, however, affecting change is tough. People can exert some influence but bringing about immediate change isn’t going to happen.
He said councillors must treat administration with respect and seek the CAO’s knowledge.
“Trust them until they have proven that you can’t,” said Christie.
“They’re doing their job as per their policies…set by council. Let them do their job,” said Christie.
He recommends working hard and paying attention.
“You have to read through the agenda, and believe me if you don’t, everybody will know,” said Christie.
Prepare to be busy. “Write off Tuesday nights. All of them.”
“Along with the regular meetings and community meetings you have other (committee) meetings,” he added.
In Lacombe, each councillor has four committees, the mayor has six committees. Add to that there are conferences and symposiums to attend. The work takes time away from family, friends and personal life.
One key piece of advice by Christie was to remember that whatever decisions are made, research is important.
“You have to know your stuff and you have to know both sides of the argument,” said Christie, adding that there are six other people doing the same thing.
He pointed out that respect and proper conduct in council is paramount.
“It is your job to respect the welfare and the interests of the municipality as a whole,” said Christie.
He suggests that it’s good to have a united council but it doesn’t mean that councillors won’t disagree on things but can eventually come to a resolution.
If councillors are open-minded and ready for discussion, said Christie, there is a possibility that their mind could change as well.
No situation is black and white and there’s times when councillors will have to make a decision that isn’t the most popular. He advises not taking decisions lightly.
“If we respect each other and work together towards a common goal, I think we will get it done,” said Christie.
When asked by Ponoka News about dealing with the press Christie suggests honesty.
“Be honest. They’ve got a job to do.”
“He (the reporter) can be your friend. Or he can be your enemy. I think it’s up to you to decide.”
“And if you don’t know the answer. Tell him you don’t know the answer,” said Christie.
One resident asked about the benefits of finding consensus on issues over taking them to a vote. Christie replied that sometimes consensus is worth the effort but it takes work.
As an example, Christie referred to the recent improvements at Lacombe’s arena. He lobbied to spend $3 million — on an $11 million project intended to ensure fire and safety codes were met — on the arena complex dressing rooms.
At the beginning of the process he lost the vote on that goal. Christie said he didn’t force consensus because it would have delayed the project. As plans moved forward Christie said it took 20 months to lobby councillors to spend the extra $3 million.
It worked, and the response from residents was positive.
He suggests before picking a hill to die on ask what it will do to benefit the community. Also is it supported by the community and plans within the town?
Christie reiterated that the biggest part of being a councillor is ensuring the needs of the community are met, much of which can be done by following already approved plans.
He recommends keeping a fun attitude when in office.