Time to step up

In six months, Ponoka will have elected a new mayor and councillors. What are you planning to do about it?

In six months, Ponoka will have elected a new mayor and councillors. What are you planning to do about it?

Mayor Larry Henkelman, who has been on council so long he remembers when Ponoka was thriving, has stated he will not seek re-election. Although he has been acclaimed the last few terms that now throws the election for mayor wide open to challengers.

When people who talk about municipal politics gather to talk about what’s wrong with municipal politics, they toss out all kinds of names of people they would like to see on council, people who have threatened to run for council, and people who should be run off council.

It’s not as easy as it sounds to elect seven people whose vision for the next four years jibes with yours. Get the phonebook out and try it. (Not the big yellow one, the little one the Ponoka Kinsmen Club publishes and is available at our office for the low, low price of $2.) Typically the best young minds are busy carving out their niche in the business world, commuting to work because there aren’t enough good jobs in Ponoka. They’re trying to raise a family and are already knee-deep in their volunteer commitments to coaching hockey, passing the plate Sunday mornings or bringing juice and orange wedges to their kids’ soccer games. Municipal politics has become a middle manager’s or retired person’s game; they’re the ones who can meet the time commitment.

Finding county councillors is just as tough — cows don’t milk themselves on the second and fourth Tuesdays of the month and the canola doesn’t harvest itself in the fall when councillors typically attend conventions and get started on their budgets.

For some, but not most, the stipend might be attractive. Mayor Henkelman earned about $30,000 in 2012; the pay for councillors depends on how many committee meetings they attend, how many babies they kiss and how many ribbons they cut. (Few, as we seem to be losing more businesses than we are gaining). Town councillors’ salaries and benefits ranged in 2012 from $13,000 to $18,000.

In Ponoka, we’re likely to see a few new faces around the council table this fall, especially if councillors Doug Gill and Rick Bonnett run for mayor — that opens up a seat. For some councillors, the job has lost its luster after several terms, and for others it’s just not what they thought it would be when they were elected three years ago. Being a councillor is a frustrating job and it’s easy for someone who’s used to being the boss at home or at work to feel like a cog in a bureaucratic wheel that turns ever so slowly. Councillors who get elected on a platform of change and progress often find after one term that they have just perpetuated the status quo.

Councillors with more than three terms of service should either run for the big chair or get out of the way. If the community is to advance, it needs fresh ideas and the revitalization a new generation of leaders can provide.

Residents deserve local government that is willing to listen to their concerns and their suggestions. That’s a cornerstone of democracy. Municipal government has more direct influence on the everyday lives of citizens than either the provincial or federal government.

You expect a lot from your local government but are you prepared to put in a lot of time and effort over the next four years to improve the quality of life in your community? Nomination day for the fall election is Sept. 16. That gives you about five months to get up to speed on what town council or county council has been up to. You don’t have to understand mill rates, off-site levies, municipal development plans and debentures right away to be considered a good candidate for office.

Tonight, April 24 at 7 p.m., take the first step. The Ponoka County and Town Taxpayers Association is meeting at the county office for a Vision Ponoka 2013 brainstorming session.

Go see what being a municipal government leader is all about. Serving as a municipal councillor is often a thankless job, but really, somebody’s gotta do it.

— OFF THE RECORD