Friday, July 26, 2013

Who'll Run for Council? Part 2 – What to Expect in Council Chambers

On Tuesday September 24, townspeople in the Province's municipalities will vote for new municipal councils. Nomination Day is Tuesday, August 27.  In Clarenville there will be two votes; one for the position of Mayor and another for the 6 other councillors who will constitute our Town's government for the next 4 years.   If you are interested in running, Municipalities NL and The Department of Municipal Affairs have created a great resource called MAKING YOUR MARK - it has lots of useful information for would-be-councillors.

Here in Clarenville, I expect there will be a lot of interest from people considering running.  I’ve been there and I have some insights on what a new Councilor can expect in his or her role.


General Meetings: Structure and Schedule
If you like meeting lots of people with great ideas, Council is the place for you.  Clarenville’s Council meets every second week on Tuesdays.   The work of Council however is done in Committee and there are several formal committees – eg: Public Works, Finance, Economic Development, and Beautification(Arts and Recreation).   These committees are comprised of councilors and staff and are chaired by a councillor. These committees review applications, finances, opportunities and develop initiatives.  Some committees such as finance and public works meet bi-weekly while others meet less often.  Normally these subcommittees meet  in opposite weeks as council meetings and they meet during the day (Early morning, Lunchtime, after 4:00 and the meetings last an hour to an hour and a half.)  

As I pointed out in Part 1, this town is largely run by volunteers.  There are many groups and each group want and need to have input into the direction of the Town.  As such, you can expect meetings over and above the usual committee meetings.  Sometimes groups meet with a councillor(s) or sometimes they request to meet with council. 

All committee or outside meetings are brought back to the regular public Council meeting.  The Council agenda is set up so each committee can report.  I found that it is essential to have written minutes of meetings and it is helpful to get these out to other Councilors prior to the council meeting.   Better decisions are made and the likelihood of action increases with a full written report.


Public Council Meetings
Council usually comes together as a full group only at the Public meetings.  I found this to be unfortunate in one sense because the group is really seven independent minds rather than a cohesive group. As I've already noted, the bi-weekly Council Meeting  is always a public meeting. There are about a dozen chairs for the public in the Council chambers.  Unfortunately few of the public ever attend these meetings.   I found that having the public present makes for a better meeting – I'm not sure why, but I guess that it forces councilors to be more accountable.  The PACKET newspaper is always there and they doa fantastic service recording all meetings and publishing them to their website- in a timely fashion (within 24 hours). With these records anyone can “be there” and listen to not only what wassaid but how it was approached.  You canfind these meeting records HERE.   Official minutes of any public meeting of council can be found on the Town’s website HERE, however these may take some time to get posted. (Minutes of the previous Council meeting are approved and become ‘Official” in the subsequent Council meeting  - then they are posted.

Once decisions are made by Council it is important – essential - for the members to stick to the decision of “the council”.   Some decisions can be quite decisive and it is important to have your say and influence the discussion BEFORE the decision is made so that a better, well discussed decision can be made.  As a new Councillor, don’t get caught making quick decisions, with limited or no facts and limited discussion.  Things that are not as well thought out as they should have been will come back to haunt you and the council.       


Council represents the townspeople and it is its responsibility to direct the employees of the town to put this decision into action. This is a critical point that some Councillors – me included – often lose sight of.  Council’s job is Policy formation, not garbage collection.  Referring back to my point about the importance of well thought out decisions, this is most critical from an employee’s point of view.  He/She is the one that is carrying out the decision – Council needs to be there to back them up.  Waffling and lack of support makes for justifiably upset employees. 


Deputy Mayor
The mayoral election is separate from the candidates election so the mayor is selected by voters.   The choice of the  Deputy Mayor is selected by Council.  Normally the candidate receiving the highest number of votes is selected as Deputy Mayor.

Council Stipend
Being a good Councillor can be expensive in terms of you time and treasure.  It will take up time and energy, not necessarily in meetings but also in considering decisions and researching issues.   You'll also be the Town's representative so it's important to be seen at as many events as you can - people (like me) will notice Councilor's presence (and their absence).  Of course some of this comes at a cost too - some costs are directly reimbursed by other costs are not.  To compensate Councilors to get a quarterly stipend that works out to approximately 7,000 a year for regular councillors, 8,000 for the Deputy Mayor and $9,000 for the mayor.

Go to Part 1
Go to Part 3

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