REPORT: Civic politics--FUN? Well, why not?

Sara Golling
By Sara Golling
May 12th, 2014

The public was invited, and on Thursday evening 22 Rosslanders gathered at the Gallery to share ideas, in a forward-looking, positive, stimulating discussion — about how to raise interest among suitable people to stand for election to Rossland City Council.

The gathering included two former council members, several people with experience in governance and law, and some who are considering standing for election in the fall. Your reporter was there for the specific purpose of sharing the outcomes of the meeting with you — “you” being anyone who is interested enough to read on.  (She also enjoyed a glass of wine, and found the discussion up-beat and encouraging — and had fun being there.)

Council Members

Who is it we want to stand for election?  What qualities in Council members best serve those members as individuals, and Rossland as a whole, on Council? 

The group agreed that Rossland Council is made up of good people — and that being  a good person is a great (but vague) qualification.  The focus of the group was on the future, so we were thinking about what to look for in candidates for this fall’s civic election, and we spend no time discussing the specific skills and qualities of current Council members.  Discussion brought out  more detail about the qualities and skills that the group agreed we all want in the individuals elected to Council this fall, and in Council as a whole; here they are, in no particular order:

  • “service ethic” — a desire to serve the greater good of the community as a whole;
  • honesty, integrity, incorruptibility;
  • ability to communicate ideas clearly, succinctly, and respectfully;humility; recognition that one is not always “right”;
  • perseverance, balanced with the necessary humility;
  • ability to understand economics and law;
  • analytical thinking, critical thinking;
  • willingness and ability to consider other points of view and to change one’s mind on the basis of better information;
  • willingness to spend the time required to be fully informed — a former Council member said that amount of time varies during the year from 5 to 40 hours a week;
  • diplomacy,and a genuine respect for others;
  • sense ofhumour;
  • courageto say difficult things when necessarylong-term vision;
  • long-term commitment and endurance;
  • organizational skills;
  • competency — the ability to process a lot of information;
  • enjoymentof the political process — of being in politics;
  • willingness and ability to be asopen with the public as legally permissible, and to accept public input;
  • solid understanding of the respective roles of Council, the Mayor, and staff;
  • ability to avoid “tribalism”, and avoid falling into cliques and factions;
  • independentthinking; an ability to avoid “group-think” and “rubber-stamping”;
  • accountability– being willing to take responsibility for one’s actions;
  • consensus-buildingand co-operation — collaborative teamwork;
  • no “expectation of accolades”;
  • ability to “respect the process” and not take disagreements personally;
  • ability to be “comfortable with ambiguity” and with the fact that there may not be a “perfect solution” at times;
  • recognition that councillors are “trustees” for the taxpayers;
  • lack of “ambition”, lack of “ego” — or, a strong ego but not a big, needy ego;
  • maturity, life experience, wisdom — as one participant put it: “having had your heart broken many times.”

The Mayor

Now that we know the many superb qualities we want to see in all members of  Council, what about the Mayor?  Are there additional skills and qualities that help a mayor survive and earn the respect of the community, and other communities?

The group thought that, in addition to all the qualities listed above, we would all like our Mayor to have particularly strong diplomacy and communication skills, oral as well as written, the ability to think on his or her feet, and a particularly good grasp of “the big picture” to help keep Council on track.   She or he needs to lead without dominating, to be an effective supervisor of the CAO, and to support collaborative work on Council.

What else does Council need?

Sound policiesthat are consistently applied, good information as appropriate from staff, and a good system of communication  within City Hall and with the public are all necessary to enable the skills of Council members to be useful.

Top reasons to be on Council:

There are no doubt others, but these are the ones that came up:

  • It’s interesting!
  • It’s satisfying!
  • It provides personal enrichment and good experience!
  • It’s challenging!  (Stimulates the brain, may fend off Alzheimer’s!)
  • It provides an avenue for influencing provincial government policies, via resolutions of the Association of Kootenay-Boundary Local Governments (AKBLG) and the Union of BC Municipalities (UBCM).
  • You’ll never be bored!  (Well, hardly ever … )
  • And of course, all those interesting conversations you’ll have at Ferraro’s, the Post Office, at random intervals on the sidewalk, and so on.
  • It’s a tremendous learning experience!

So, what now?

Does that list of qualities (up above) describe you to a “T”?  Do some soul-searching. Could you enjoy serving on Council?  If so, don’t run off and hide — do consider being nominated.  Or, do others spring to mind when you read the list?  Think of how you can persuade them to be nominated.  And, talk with everyone you know about qualities for candidacy, about Council, about the civic election this fall.  Let’s have an unprecedented voter turn-out this year — with each vote well-informed and well-thought-out.  I know, that’s what we used to call a “stretch goal”, but we can strive toward it, can’t we? Starting now.

One more thing: watch for an invitation to a second gathering on the topic of local civic governance — and try to be there!

Categories: GeneralPolitics

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