Sunday, February 7, 2010

Some Thoughts from This Year's SUMA Convention

Sunday through Wednesday last week was the annual SUMA convention, this year held in Regina. I look on these conventions as opportunities for learning, both formal and informal. The sessions labeled education sessions are meant to be exactly that - presentations from experts on various aspects of municipal governance and management. This year's topics included climate change, waste management, budgeting, and bylaws. There's also a keynote speaker, a speech from the Premier, and the opportunity to meet with individual cabinet ministers, and with cabinet as a whole. There's a trade show, so that you can find out about new products that might benefit your community, and social events, both formal (a banquet) and informal (a reception on the first evening, a hospitality night on the second). The banquet and the opening night reception weren't included in the convention cost, so Andrea and I opted out of those, instead sampling a couple of restaurants that were within walking distance of our hotel.

Probably the most informative session that I attended was the one on bylaw development. I had a particular interest in how bylaws could help us deal with boarded up houses, a long-standing problem for which we seem to be having difficulty finding a solution, in fact, I have been told a couple of times that there is no solution. When I asked the question of the experts, I was relieved to find out that other communities have dealt with the problem through development of a nuisance bylaw - the trick, of course, is to enforce the bylaw once it's developed.

The news from the premier that the share of the sales tax will not be increased this year was not a surprise to most of us - it will make budgeting this year even more difficult, and I think that council needs to look at cutting costs, big and small, wherever we can. The news about civic terms being increased to four years after the next election was a bit more of a surprise, since the discussions about that were more than a year ago. Personally, I don't think that the longer commitment will dissuade people from running for council, since most members of council run for multiple terms anyway. My approach to the job is the same in the first year of the term as the last, so I don't buy the argument that the last third of the term is spent campaigning, although I suppose some might approach it that way. But I do agree that the cost savings to the community will be considerable, although our costs also include school board elections, which right now still have the three year term.

Like most things in life, SUMA is something that you can always learn from, if you avail yourself of the opportunity. I do think that it would be more useful if it were more focused on cities - my preference would be to have a separate conference for cities, and another one for towns and villages, since our problems tend to be quite different. But I did enjoy the opportunity to learn some things, to meet up with colleagues from other communities, and to have a couple of evenings out with some of my fellow councillors and their spouses, sharing perspectives, ideas and a great deal of laughter.

"Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow. The important thing is not to stop questioning." - Albert Einstein

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