Thursday, November 6, 2008

Looking Ahead

Although we seem to have been awash in elections lately, between the federal election last month and the presidential election to the south of us which ended on Tuesday, I thought that this would be a good time to remind people that the civic election will be held in less than a year.

If you're thinking of running for council, now is the time to start figuring out if that is the right decision for you, and I have a few suggestions to help you in making that decision.

First, find out as much as you can about what the job is. I'm amazed when someone who has never attended a council meeting or gone through a civic budget comes in thinking that being a councillor is some sort of ceremonial ambassadorship. It isn't - it's making decisions that will affect every resident of the city, and that means doing a lot of homework.

Go to a council meeting. Get hold of a council agenda, and read through it, and imagine reading through that volume of material every second week for the next three years, making notes on it, and preparing questions and comments. Get a copy of the budget, and go through it, line by line, figuring out what you would support, and what you would trim. Talk to people who are currently on council, and people who have served on past councils - find out what they liked, and what wasn't their favourite part of being on council.

Then, talk to your family. Being on council means giving up evenings and some weekends - prime family time. It's more than just council meetings - committee meetings and related work can take a great deal of time, as can responding to residents' questions and concerns. Depending on whether you have kids, and how old they are, this may have an influence on your decision at this time. When I was first elected, Guthrie was still in junior high - I missed more volleyball and basketball games than I would have wished, and those days are gone forever. And there is a cost to running - you have to put up $100, which you only get back if you receive at least 10% of the votes cast. Depending on how lavish a campaign you want to run, everything costs, from flyers and signs through print, radio and television advertising. You may have friends and relatives who are willing to donate to your cause, or you may wish to bankroll yourself - or some combination of the two.

Then, think about what you can bring to the job. What is your experience in working as part of a committee or non-profit group - a church, or a day-care board, for example. Those kinds of organizations are good preparation for making consensus decisions and managing limited funds wisely. Do you have ideas for some of the chronic problems that plague council - crime, revitalizing downtown, improving infrastructure? We need good ideas to move us ahead. Slogans aren't enough; we need real substance to generate change.

Then, think about what kind of person you are. Are you able to listen to other people's ideas with an open mind? Can you be counted on to fulfil your commitments? Do you handle criticism well? How do you react when someone disagrees with your ideas? Do you have enough courage to vote for what you believe in, not for what the majority wants to do, even if you're the only one voting that way?

Finally, think about how you would handle the inevitable scrutiny and resulting criticism. This is a job that is out in the open, spending public money, and the public has no hesitation in telling you when they think you've made a mistake, and they often do it publicly. In my time on council I've been called, in print, everything from being paranoid and delusional to being comparable to rodents, and there isn't a member of the current council who hasn't been called names. This isn't pleasant, and probably will upset your family more than it upsets you - another factor to consider when you're discussing the opportunity with your loved ones.

That being said, if you still feel that you have something to offer, then start planning how you're going to persuade people to support you. I admire anyone with the courage to put themselves and their opinions out in public, with the goal of making Prince Albert a better place to live.

"He knows nothing; and he thinks he knows everything. That points clearly to a political career." George Bernard Shaw

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