By Charlie Hodge
Do as I say not as I do.
Ironically I hypothesised at such length last Friday on challenges facing local municipal politicians that I ran out of word room. I babbled myself off the page. The editor’s knife had no choice but to send key points to the garbage bin having exceeded my allowed verbiage space.
So for those still wannabe city councillors, school trustees, mayors… some further political pontification.
The political world in B.C. has changed significantly the past two decades with more and more responsibility for budgets, infrastructure, and general governance being passed down from Federal and Provincial to municipal bodies. With it comes the demand on time and willingness to learn and of course frustration from the tax payer.
Most newly elected officials spend the better part of their first year in office simply getting to understand the multiple and complex rules under which councils work. Many municipalities hold a one-day workshop for newly elected members. I think they should be mandatory before one takes office.
Getting up to speed on legalities, protocols, and background information on issues is huge and the learning curve very steep for the first year or two. In some cases many newly elected council members need at least a year or two to become truly effective at the decision making table. (Some, it seems, never get there).
A new city councillor must learn and then learn some more. One soon learns that every issue, land discussion, bylaw, proposed development, neighbourhood squabble, and budget issue has two, three, or possibly more sides to it. I love the learning and find each issue deserving of its fair time and effort so I do not get bored with what some come to consider the mundane.
A new council member should sometimes (note SOMETIMES) defer to a senior staff member or veteran councillor for more insight or knowledge on an issue. The more background one gains the better grasp they may have on the current situation. That’s not to say one should blindly follow, but certainly listen and learn from someone who have been there, done that with certain issues or characters.
As mentioned last week, experience helps anyone do a better job including elected officials. For that reason I have a hard time usually (but not always) supporting someone running for mayor who has never served a term as councillor. A strong, experienced mayor is vital to leading a strong council and the protocols and guidelines for a mayor are even more arduous than others.
As a journalist for 20 years (and had a father on city council) I figured I knew all about the inner workings of a city hall. When I was elected to council on Vancouver Island my first time it was a huge wake-up call.
There is much more to being a good city council member serving your community than meets the eye from the outside. However it is a wonderful job and great honour.
Make sure your entire family is prepared for your possible election as well. It’s not just all about you.
The loss of personal privacy has a price. Immediately after being elected you’ll be branded as a politician – and if you think that does not have its ramifications, well, just wait.
And if you are lucky enough to win a spot on council then smile like crazy on election night because it might be a little more difficult to do so four years later and your time has been served.
By press time this week 49 people have taken out papers to run school and civic elections. A candidate must have a minimum of 10 nominators (down from the required 25 in the 2014 civic election). Each candidate must also pay a $100 deposit.
I strongly encourage anyone with any interest to run in the election and to contact me with any questions.