8 Things You Need to Know If You Are Thinking About Running for Council
When it is election time in our small municipalities, it is stressful for the Administration and the staff as new Councillors come on board with a passion for change but no real idea of what is involved. That puts the Administration in an odd situation of having a bunch of new bosses who think they know their role. It gets complicated when you are in the position of knowing more about their roles than the people in them but being subject to discipline if you don't do as your Council directs you. Training is not required for new Councillors; it is considered in most provinces that the Administrator is supposed to train the Councillors. If you are thinking about running for Council, there are things you should consider first. I've listed the most common ones here.
People change their attitude towards you as soon as you are elected. It seems there is no sense of boundaries now; once you are a councillor in a small population, you are considered by most to be on call. People often approach you at a hockey game or when you are out and about. Mostly it is to have you fix something. You must understand that complaints must be directed through the Administration so they can be addressed at a meeting. You shouldn't make a personal response. This is because...
Councillors have no power whatsoever as individuals. That means that individual councillors cannot speak on behalf of the rest, no matter their personal opinion. That means you cannot say what Council will do about an issue unless it goes to a meeting and is decided upon by the entire Council.
Municipal Councils are a part of the larger government. They are not an independent government and are expected to follow the current legislation and the standard rules of the government. That means rules around staff, safety, policy and procedure are expected to follow the government's lead. The Administration is expected to know the legislation and make sure you know it too.
Deciding you disagree with the legislation does not free you from your obligation to follow it. When you take your oath of office, you agree to a code of ethics and to work in the best interest of the entire community within the framework of the legislation.
You are not allowed to be involved in Council discussions about things in which you have an interest. Conflict of interest is complicated in a small town where you can belong to several committees that need money or support from the Council. According to the Ombudsman, a conflict of interest occurs when there is a financial benefit but also when there is a personal interest. For example, being on the rec board and fundraising for ball diamonds while being on the Council discussion, a donation for the ball diamonds is a conflict of interest. This can cause a bit of upset to those who run for Council on their agenda only to find out that this is not allowed.
Unless you have a bylaw to the contrary, the Administrator is your only employee. That means you have to let the Administrator take on the role of hiring, firing and supervising your staff. That means you cannot follow around the public works staff and tell them they are doing it wrong. That means you cannot direct the work of staff. You must follow your provincial legislation if you want that kind of involvement. Some provinces do not allow that at all. Stepping over that particular line can leave your community vulnerable to liability.
The Administrator is your resource person. If you have an experienced administrator, you have a guide through all things municipal. They are either trained or undergo training, generally with a mentor, and undoubtedly know more about how things must be done than new Councillors. Support and respect are the keywords here.
Being on Council allows you to make fundamental changes in your community. It is a sometimes difficult and critical position, especially now. You have the opportunity to make real change. Many of our communities are in a transition state, where the decisions Councils make impact the future sustainability. Good leaders are essential to our long-term survival.