Municipal elections are nearly upon us. We will be asked to choose a leader and a team to make decisions on our behalf over the course of the next four years. I have been honored and privileged to serve as a city councillor for the past decade. I have made the difficult choice not to run in this election. I feel it is time to pass my baton onto others who wish to serve their community. That being said, I am compelled to pass along a few comments to those who have chosen to run in municipal politics.
If successful, you will be in a position to determine policies that impact the residents of the entire city – not just the vocal few who shout the loudest, not just the influential few, not just the most eloquent, not just your friends. Your decisions impact the entire community. Listen carefully, do your research, study reports, evaluate recommendations, ask questions, debate respectfully – and then vote. And when Council makes a collective decision, respect that process – regardless of your personal feelings, you now own that decision. Running for council, whether as a councillor or as the mayor, is not a popularity contest. If your goal is to have people like you, stay out of politics. We need decision-makers – not prima donnas. We need people who are willing to serve their term – not quit in the midst of a catastrophe or because of personality conflicts. You have to be made of sterner stuff! You need to be able to think outside the box – to envision what Merritt can become, what it needs to do to grow and prosper, to be able to provide the community services needed. You need to listen to the quiet voices – they often convey the most accurate portrait of the community.
You need to be able to attend lots of meetings – council meetings, committee meetings, regional meetings, meetings with cabinet ministers, SILGA, UBCM and many others – some with little notice. Life isn’t always organized in neat, predictable order. Being on Council isn’t just one meeting every other week. Get used to being on call.
You have to work at being a part of a team. It doesn’t always come naturally. You don’t have to “like” all your team, but you do have to treat them respectfully and listen to their points of view and work together to come up with the best decisions for the community. You are making a long-term commitment to the entire community – not just the ones who may have voted for you.
Stay humble. The job, for councillors, doesn’t come with a car or an office. Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Learn to listen intently, but don’t share confidential information.
You need to learn to budget. Learn what communities can spend tax dollars on – and what they can’t! Recognize that services cost money. What can we afford to do? What our community needs is sometimes in conflict with what our community wants. What are the citizens willing to pay for? There is a lot more, but serving the public is both a privilege and a responsibility. I want to thank those who have chosen to put their names in the race knowing the limitations imposed on public service. My wish is that we choose wisely.