Municipal elections are just over a year away and already whispers of people considering running are making their way around the coffee table.
Whatever the motivation, taking on the role as a representative of the community requires some kudos; the job isn’t easy but has some great potential if one’s heart is in the right place. You will help shape the future of the community and be part of a group that builds Ponoka from a grassroots level.
That being said, it is important to realize that decisions being made as a council have an overarching effect on the community. Taking a course of action to help one group or friend may unwittingly hurt another group’s goals. Whatever your intentions the community as a whole must be considered in your decision-making.
The following tips come from five years of reporting on town, and some county, council meetings and may come in handy when considering whether you should run for public office.
Teamwork: If you want to be effective as a council I recommend practicing your conflict resolution skills.
Things are going to get heated, passionate and at times frustrating, not only with you and other councillors but with other councils and groups. It is imperative that your actions are conducive to creating an environment of trust. It’s like any relationship, if you want to make it work you can’t hold a grudge. Work out your problems in a respectful manner and you will see how effective a council can be.
Four years: A term of council is four years; if you already have little time for family and friends due to a heavy workload then you better bail.
Seriously, you’re not doing anyone any favours if you’re too busy to get involved.
People vote for you to represent them not to just finish out your term because you feel like you have to. It can be time consuming but the personal rewards for shaping the future of the community are great, it would be a shame to miss out on that because you can’t find the time or are too tired.
Understand the role: You can’t make everyone happy. I guarantee you in the four years of your term you’re going to upset somebody.
This is why it’s important to have a strong, active administration running things. You pay them to make you look good. Luckily the town has an administration that is providing the right information to council and is ready to act. Whatever happened in the past is over, this administration wants to follow through with strategic plans and help move the town forward.
Hear all sides: This goes hand-in-hand with understanding your role. While you can’t make everyone happy you can certainly hear all sides of a question. It is in the community’s best interest to look at the different perspectives and make an educated decision.
Back your decisions: Regardless of the outcome of a motion, if you can’t back up what you voted on then you need to rethink your motivation.
Be prepared to explain yourself to the press, residents and stakeholders. They are liable to ask tough questions and you should be able to provide a response. Hiding behind the mayor, in-camera or any other political rhetoric is disingenuous and frankly, cowardly. Honesty goes a long way to mitigate someone’s anger over a decision, and it may just help them understand.
Family and conflict of interest: You will need to recuse yourself from a decision if it involves an immediate family member or if there is potential financial benefit to you or them. You will put yourself and the town in an awkward position if you break this rule. Don’t do it.
Have fun: Enjoy your time as a councillor. It can be a rewarding experience.
The last is a bit of a cliché but there will be times of uncertainty and probably sleepless nights. That means you care. In those times it may be a good rule of thumb to remember that it’s OK to laugh.