Sunday, February 10, 2013

SUMA Takeaways

I spent from Sunday until Wednesday last week in Saskatoon at the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association annual meeting, along with several of my council colleagues and the city manager.  Like most conferences, SUMA provides a good mix of formal and informal educational opportunities to learn about how various municipal councils function, and could function better.

I found two of the formal speakers particularly interesting this year.  The first, Darci Lang, a motivational speaker from Regina, set the tone on Monday with an extremely energetic and engaging talk about adjusting one's focus.  Andrea had heard her speak several years ago, and had forewarned me that I might find her a bit too positive and motivational for my taste, so I did try listening with an open mind.  Darci was upbeat, and cheerful, and perky (which I admit I am not known for being), and I, and the rest of the audience, quite enjoyed this learning experience.

What I hope to remember from Darci's talk was the need for council to focus on what we have in common, not on our differences.  I'm sure that each member of council has their own list of goals and targets, and that none of these lists is identical.  I'm also sure that all of these lists have at least some items in common, and perhaps we need to work together on these common goals that we agree on, not spend our energies fighting over what we disagree about.  And hopefully, that way we will accomplish tasks that we all can be proud of, and feel that we were part of.

Also on Monday, George Cuff, a former mayor and councillor from Alberta who has written several books about municipal governance, spoke about the need for councillors to understand that our job is about developing policy and direction, not about micromanaging the details of carrying out that direction - that's for city employees to do.  We have to realize that as council, we are supposed to be leaders, not managers, and not part of the city labour force either.  And we also have to realize that we can't let personal relationships cloud our work as councillors - we need to remain impartial in our dealings with city employees and other agencies.  I quite enjoyed George's talk, but I'm sorry that when I looked around at some of my colleagues, they were more focused on their Blackberry screens than on the good advice that we were being given.

Other presentations that I found worthwhile included a session about moving to single-stream recycling, a question and answer session with the Minister of Health, and a newcomers' session, which outlined our various legislated responsibilities, and included a presentation from the new mayor of Lloydminster, who gave us his perspective on the difficulties being a new mayor and shaking up the status quo.  It was a good reminder of how easy it is for councillors and city administration to become complacent, and how we need to be careful not to fall into an attitude of resistance to change.

And as always, I enjoyed the chance to catch up with old friends from previous years, meet new people, and socialize with my colleagues.  Being on a municipal council is a constant learning experience, and opportunities like SUMA are an excellent chance to learn from your peers, and from experts.  Fortunately, this year provided plenty of fodder for us to use in the coming year - I hope that we use it well.

"The great aim of education is not knowledge but action." - Herbert Spencer

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