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"Ever wonder if City Council is as contentious and chaotic as it is sometimes portrayed? Here you can get a progressive perspective on some of the issues from someone who spent four years in the trenches. Totally unbiased, though! Feel free to comment but keep it respectful, just like they do at council."

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

So you want to be a councillor

You've been watching council for a year, heard about the skirmishes, the dust-ups and the name-calling and you're thinking, “Anybody would be better than that! I would be better than that!”

You're probably right in far too many instances, but before you plunk down your one or two hundred dollars and open a bank account for a municipal run, you may want to think about some of the following questions.

What is your vision for the City of London?

Why do you want to be a councillor? Is it for the status it will give you? Are you looking for a job, part-time or otherwise? Or do you really have a vision for your city?

If you are elected, you have four years to get started on your vision. Don't say a tax freeze—that's a slogan, not a vision. Jobs, jobs, jobs!--ditto.

What do you like about London? What's missing? What needs to be done better? What needs to be eliminated? What kind of city do you want for your children and grandchildren? What changes need to be made to move the city in the direction of your vision?

What experience, residential or travel, do you have of other cities?

Did you participate in ReThink London to discuss your vision with other residents?

Are you the best person to achieve that vision?

Here's where you start taking a long, hard look at yourself. Being a councillor is not an easy ride so an honest assessment of your own skills, abilities and interests is warranted. You may want to get some help on these from people who know you well.

         Are you prepared to sit in meetings hour after hour? Do you understand the basic rules of procedure? Much of your time at city hall will be spent doing just that, and under the scrutiny of the public, both in the gallery and at home in front of a computer or TV.
         Are you a fast reader? Can you absorb a lot of information quickly, digest it, retain it, and synthesize it with other information you have acquired? Have you read through council agendas? Can you understand them? Remember, agendas for most committee and council meetings are hundreds of pages long. Legal-sized.
         Are you prepared to give up most of your weekends for the next four years? Agendas come out on the Thursday or Friday of the preceding week; the meetings will be held on Monday or Tuesday. That means you will be reading hundreds of pages over the weekend so that you can get answers to any questions that may arise before the meetings at which you have to make a decision.
         Do you find it easy to make decisions? All council motions require a yes/no response; there's no “yes, but..” and you are stuck with your decision, decisions which may involve millions of dollars and hundreds of thousand residents.
         Do you like researching issues? Do you have a questioning mind? Do you know where to look for answers? Are you willing to ask for information and help?
         Are you a team player? Are you prepared to compromise from time to time? Are you willing to let someone else take the credit in order to get it done? Are you willing to consult?
         Are you a good listener? Most of your time in meetings will be spent listening to others. Can you keep an open mind so that you can hear the arguments?
         Are you a good speaker? Usually, you will have five minutes to make your case. Can you speak succinctly? Can you think on your feet? Can you capture people's attention when you speak?
         Are you a multi-tasker? As a councillor, you will be dealing with several issues and conflicting demands at the same time. You need to be able to keep your wits about you.
         Do you enjoy public events? Are you prepared to be at them three, four or five evenings per week?
         Are you comfortable with current information technology? Do you have social media accounts? A website? Are you caught up on your email correspondence?
         Are you willing to accept phone calls day and night?
         Can you handle a request for a radio interview at 6 a.m. although the meeting didn't end until midnight?
         Do you know basic stuff about the city and how it functions? What about its major employers, institutions and organizations? Its physical infrastructure? Its public services?
         Can you accept criticism? You'll probably be getting lots of it, both publicly and privately.
         Do you have any connections or involvements that may compromise your impartiality? Remember, you are there to serve the interests of the public, not sponsors or personal friends and acquaintances.

Can you win?

Although you will be helping to shape the city as a whole, you have to win the most votes in the ward you choose to run in.

         Do you live in the ward? How long have you been there? How well do you know its neighbourhoods? What are the main features of the ward? Who votes there? What are their interests and concerns? Do they match your vision? What are the salient issues in the ward?
         How well are you known in the ward? Will your name resonate with the voters? Are you involved in ratepayers' or community associations?
         Who else is running? Does the ward have an incumbent who is running again? What is the incumbent's record of voting and achievement? Are there other contenders who have a vision similar to yours? Are other candidates better known? Remember, it's a first-past-the post system; the more contenders there are, the less it takes for the incumbent to win again.
         What accomplishments, in your career or in voluntary organizations, can you claim? Do people think of you as a leader? Are you someone they normally turn to to get things done?
         Can you raise enough money? The spending limits are $20,000 to $25,000, and successful campaigns rarely come in at less than $10,000. Signs and brochures are expensive but they are essential. Do you have the money? Can you raise it through donations? From whom? Will your sponsors expect anything in return for supporting you?
         Do you have a team to help you? You need a manager and supporters to organize and do the grunt work of canvassing and pounding in signs. Who will help you? Are they reliable?
         Do you have the energy and stamina for a campaign? Ideally, you should knock on every door at least once. Are you in good shape for this?
         Do you have a strategy for all-candidates' meetings? Are you prepared for the questions that will be asked? Can you anticipate what the questions will be?
         Is your family supportive of your undertaking a campaign? Will they help? Will they give money? Will they mind if you are never home?
         Do you have a good, firm handshake?
         Have you used social media responsibly? Are there any pictures or postings that may embarrass you?

These are just a few questions that come to mind. I would appreciate hearing additional suggestions from you. Just remember, there are many ways to give or give back to your community. Running for office is not the only, or even the most desirable, way. Sometimes, helping others with more skill, more knowledge and more potential is the way to go.

Here's an exercise: For one month, read all the agendas, including the budget (on the weekend, of course). and attend all council and committee meetings in person. It's not the same as watching them televised or live-streamed. Figure out how you would vote on motions and why. That should give you a taste of what some of your life as a councillor will be. Without all the pesky calls from the public.

Once you've done that, and you still want to run, my best wishes to you.


Barry Wells said...

What about Swag? The fridge magnets and umbrellas?

Kallie said...

Great blog today Gina. Thanks for putting it out there for people to think about.

Randy Warden said...

Excellent advice Gina, thank you

Randy Warden said...

Great advice Gina, Thank you.

Interested party said...

Excellent advice Gina.

The suggestion that people wanting to be a councillor attend meetings regularly and read all agendas for a period of time before running for office makes a lot of sense.

R. Cain said...

In 2014, that's asking a lot for $30,000/year.
Unless a person must also be independently wealthy,OR is anticipating ancillary income.

Al Goodhall said...

After reading this post Gina I think I will retain my position as an Armchair Critic. ;)

Valuable insights and great questions we should all bear in mind in the lead up to voting day.

Anonymous said...

yes R. Cain, it is a lot for what the pay is. However, even if the pay was more, some of the elected officials we get would not be any brighter than the current crop. It is public SERVICE. This gets back to Gina's point - if you are running for the money and the pension - maybe you should stay away. Look at what we got as a result in some wards.

B.T. Regular said...

No sign of Matt Brown at Billy T's so far.