By George Brown
One incumbent councillor isn’t worried about the prospect of facing competition in the upcoming election to remain on Ponoka County council.
In fact, division 4 Coun. Paul McLauchlin is encouraging challengers to his seat and those of his fellow councillors.
“By no means is my encouraging new people to, run a criticism of who’s there,” McLauchlin explained. “I just don’t want to see councillors acclaimed to office.
“No one’s doing that good a job on council that they should be re-elected unopposed.”
Nomination Day is Sept. 20. Election Day is Oct. 18.
Mclauchlin is a first-term council who will seek a second and final three-year mandate; he’s promised his family he would serve only two terms.
Ponoka County needs to be represented by a cross section of its population, including those from younger families, businesspeople and farmers, he said. “Personally, I think we need to have women on council.”
A councillor’s commitment to municipal government can be tailored to their availability and to their interests. McLauchlin logs about 35 hours a month and is on four standing committees or boards. Some councillors put in upwards of 100 hours a month. “I’m at the low end of all of our councillors because I run a business. It is what you want to make of it.
“Everybody’s probably got 30 or 40 hours they can squeeze out of a month.”
Councillors are remunerated on the basis of a base minimum and additional pay for their workload. In 2009 the five councillors were paid a total of 157,854.
While it helps to have some understanding of the issues facing the county and the tools available to council such as the municipal development plan and land use bylaw, McLauchlin said “there’s a whole lot of stuff you learn as you go.
“The more I find out about (municipal government) the more I find it interesting. It’s been a great experience.”
One of the first issues a new councillor will have to deal with after the election is settling on Ponoka County’s 2011 budget estimates. The county spends about $12 million annually on everything from public works and recreation to civic administration and community supports.
“We get a lot of demands put on us,” McLauchlin said. “A lot of it is about money. We’re asked to do about $14 million worth of stuff with $12 million.”
McLauchlin said 40 years ago county representatives were call road managers but their responsibilities have changed considerably since 1952 when the county was incorporated. It’s not just roads and public works the county is providing to its residents. The county is involved in delivering social programs such as FCSS, operating recreation services in co-operation with the towns of Rimbey and Ponoka, encouraging economic diversification and creating job opportunities, and enacting local legislation to sustain agriculture.
“It’ll be a different job description 10 years from now, that’s for sure.”
Ponoka County is fortunate to have a strong, dedicated administration to provide councillors with the information they need to make the right decisions and then see that those decisions are implemented according to policy. McLauchlin is grateful for the support he has received from county staff.
There are nuances to governing he said, and one thing a new councillor learns quickly is that he has just one vote. If he wants to influence decisions and the direction of the county, there needs to be some “horse trading.”
“The manoeuvring with the council members, I think has been most interesting. You have make it work with you or you won’t get anything done. You either choose to learn to work with it or you work from the outside.”
McLauchlin is the rookie on Ponoka County council but he feels he has earned the respect of his council mates. “I do feel I am heard even though I may have completely different opinions than my fellow councillors.
“The one thing I can say about politics is if you’re trying to make everyone happy you’ll get yourself into so much trouble. It’s not good politics to say what people want to hear.”
Councillors sometimes have to set aside their own opinions to make decisions that are best for the residents in the division or the county as a whole. “At the end of the day you’re there as a representative. I don’t think I’m smarter than my ratepayers.”
One of the best qualities a candidate for council needs is a willingness to listen to the opinions of others to become informed on issues.
New councillors must be willing to ask questions and be prepared to work on a steep learning curve, McLauchlin added.
“As a county councillor you could be making decisions that could last forever.
“If you feel you have the passion to serve your community as a councillor, I recommend you run,” he said. “It can be a little scary but we’re all working toward the same goals.
“I still have a lot to learn. I haven’t got it all figured out yet.”
Contact Ponoka County at 403-783-3333 for information on how to become a candidate in the election.