Schooling potential councilors: Council 101 in the works

Andrew Zwicker
By Andrew Zwicker
March 17th, 2011

Have you ever considered getting into the political scene at the municipal level? Ever found yourself criticizing council for making a move or decision you disagreed with and thought you might have a better solution? Good news! With municipal elections coming up this November, you’ll soon have the chance to throw your name in the hat to serve our fine city. Making that leap into the political realm can be a big one, however, and given the dismal attendance at city council meetings most residents are likely unaware of exactly what the position of councillor or Mayor involves, how much time it takes, what they get paid, and how the whole organization of city governance functions.

This fall [building on an idea suggested by the Rossland Telegraph] Mayor Greg Granstrom will be hosting Municipal Government 101: an information workshop designed to answer the questions potential councillors or mayors may have prior to making the leap.
In the world of municipal politics, where professional politicians are rare, our council truly is one of the people. Everyday folks in town offer their experience, wisdom and decision making abilities. However, while our local politicians may not be professionals, the operation and function of that council must be run to professional standards. Thus, there is a significant learning curve for the newly-elected. Given that elected officials have only a three year term to operate within, any effort to speed up the learning curve is bound to have significant positive results.
In the latter half of 2010, the motion came before the province to consider expanding municipal terms from three to four years, with potential benefits of more time spent as effective councils and less time spent with new councils learning the ropes. That motion was defeated and terms will remain at three years for the foreseeable future. While longer terms potentially allow councils to spend more time in that pocket of effective public service, it also on the flip side means it takes longer to turn over ineffective councillors and mayors.
An editorial in the Telegraph following the province’s decision suggested methods local councils could use to make more effective use of their three year in office. The first thought was, ‘what if councillors and mayors could start work on Day One fully up to speed?’. The editorial also explored the possibility of a council school of sorts (a School for Avoiding Scandal for any drama fiends out there). The idea was that such a program would both weed out uncommitted candidates and better prepare those who chose to go ahead.
This past week it was formally announced that the City will indeed be offering a council school and running it through Rossland Recreation. It will take the form of a Rossland Recreation course entitled Municipal Government 101: an information workshop to be held on May 17th and 19th in the Arena Lounge.
This version of Council 101 is designed to attract potential candidates—the sort of people who have been perhaps thinking about running but haven’t had enough information to take the leap.
“The main goal is to give people that have been thinking about it the basic nuts and bolts information so that they can make a decision to run or not,” explained Granstrom. “If there is interest we’ll go deeper into the details of procedures and things like that.”
Granstrom, who first ran unsuccessfully for Rossland council in 1999 before being elected councilor in 2002, noted that when he first started out, he felt a little overwhelmed.
“It took me a few months to get up to speed, knowing how everything works, where everything is, what’s happening and some procedures as well. Maybe this Council 101 can help people speed up that process of getting up to speed,” added Granstrom. “The more information you have going in, the easier the transition is.”
According to Granstrom, entering the political world is a big commitment and support from spouses and family members is critical. For that reason spouses of potential candidates are also being welcomed and invited to the workshop so they too can understand all the job entails and help their significant other make their decision.
With current remuneration for councillors at roughly $6,000 and for mayors at $11,000 (with a third of these amounts tax free), money is not a primary motivator for these positions. As for just what type of person would make the ideal candidate, Granstrom pondered and replied, “It would be someone who cares about the city in general and doesn’t have an axe to grind. Someone that is prepared to put in an honest effort. Age doesn’t matter. Effort is the big thing and doing it with no bias for the greater good of the community. If you’ve just got one issue you want to push, then perhaps council isn’t the right medium for that.”
The overall hope is that with a bit more information on what the jobs entail, the workshop might help generate a larger field of informed candidates and ultimately lead to a well-oiled council machine that represents the will of the people.
“If you get good people running and good people elected, the other problems that can cause dysfunctional councils take care of themselves,” concluded Granstrom.

Categories: Politics

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