Saturday, October 20, 2018


StephenVance 540October 22 is municipal election day, and without doubt there are folks in this municipality who are considering running for a seat at Meaford's council table, but before making any decision there's lots to consider.

Municipal politicians are a special breed that combines a passion for local issues and governance with a thick skin and a bravery (insanity?) that most of us sadly lack.

I've been a municipal politics nerd for about a quarter century, and in that time I've studied municipal mayors and councillors, I've lived and breathed local issues – I even ran for council in Barrie once, many moons ago. After all these years of observation I've come to the conclusion that while not everyone is cut out for the job of a municipal councillor, many are, and even some that might not have ever considered local politics could do very well.

I think one of the most important qualities a local councillor needs is a strong interest in local issues and municipal governance – and I mean a strong interest. Council agenda packages are typically hundreds of pages long, and cover a range of issues from the sexy – like planning for a new library – to the less than sexy – budgeting for the needs of the wastewater treatment plant, for example. A strong interest isn't quite enough if you want to be a successful municipal councillor; you also need to have ideas, and you have to be willing to put yourself out there to share those ideas knowing that there will always be people to shoot you down.

Which brings me to thick skin. You could have the most extensive knowledge of municipal issues and governance, and you could have the best ideas around, but if you can't take criticism – often less than constructive at that – then you're already sunk. If you're on a municipal council, everybody seems to be a critic. The media, of course: in addition to reporting on the job you're doing will also offer opinions on their editorial page; and so will residents, whether stopping you in the grocery store, or screaming at you over the phone at 7:30 in the evening when most people are winding down for the day. Think about the recent frustrations over difficult to navigate roads after a winter storm turned to a January thaw. I saw dozens upon dozens of comments posted on social media, I received many email messages and letters to the editor, and around town people often stopped me to vent about it. Now imagine the onslaught that members of council received. If you want to run for council, you have to be confident that you can take the heat (fair or unfair) when it arises.

If you figure that you've got the interest and the passion, and you've got the thick skin required to survive a term on municipal council, you next should determine if you have the time. While the offices of councillor, deputy mayor, and mayor in this municipality are technically 'part-time', that doesn't necessarily mean the actual hours are part time. I mentioned the agenda packages; hundreds of pages of staff reports, presentations, and other documents are just the start. There's correspondence, largely by email these days, but also phone calls and letters. Before you even arrive at a council meeting good councillors will have spent hours reviewing the agenda package (not all do so, trust me), making notes, and preparing for the meeting. Some meetings are in the afternoon, some are in the evenings, and every now and then there's a meeting in the morning hours – can you be available? Does your job allow for enough flexibility? Because your meetings aren't limited to the two or three Mondays each month, there's also committee and board meetings to consider – and their agenda packages requiring even more reading and preparation time. On top of that you can add time required for attendance at public events, time to answer pesky questions from media, along with a host of other obligations including out of town conferences, and before you know it, the 'part-time' job of councillor is gobbling up far more hours each week than you had anticipated.

Okay, so you've definitely got the interest and the passion, and you've determined that your skin is thick enough, and you've got plenty of free time (geez, so many of us are already envious of you). The next question is what value do you put on your time, because municipal councillors aren't exactly raking in the dough. A regular councillor can look forward to about $21,000 per year for all that time and effort, while the mayor's position will earn you around $28,000 (plus additional remuneration for service on county council). So as much as we often hear people say our councillors are overpaid, I'm not so sure that many people realize what they are actually paid.

If you've read this far, and you think you've got all of the boxes checked, and you'd make a good candidate for council, you've got some time to mull it over and perhaps draft some plans and ideas for a campaign. You can file your nomination papers with the municipal clerk (along with the $100 fee; $200 to run for mayor) beginning Tuesday, May 1. The nomination period ends on Friday, July 27, and you'll be a busy beaver until election day on October 22.

For those that do choose to run, while I might not always (or ever) agree with you on the issues, you'll always have my respect, because issues aside, it's a heck of an undertaking and not many of us are willing to do it.

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