Today I saw squirrels racing around, my first robin and downy woodpecker, and tiny green shoots poking up where snow has melted. Must be spring! Well, except for the two feet of snow in my yard.
It’s all a reminder that time is moseying along, and only seven months remain before the municipal election. And two of those months we consider summer holiday-time. So, anyone who’s been toying with the thought of running in October should be getting more serious about their decision.
And here’s somewhere to start. The province has just released a suite of on-line information that will help. Do a search for Thinking of Running for Local Office? You should end up at a B.C. government webpage of that name. Much of what you need to know is covered there, in videos, pdf documents, and links to other important agencies like Elections BC. It’s a very good resource, for everyone really.
I looked through much of the material and, oh, how I wish I’d had it, especially the first time I ran. The factual information is essential. But the voices of elected people really show the humanity and reality. They help convey what the job is, which is not always understood by non-elected people. That’s why one of the goals of my memoir is to portray the experience of serving, through a variety of stories and reflections.
As Smithers mayor Taylor Bachrach says in one video, he had many strong views about the future of Smithers. But he soon realized politics is about collective decision-making and his ideas weren’t necessarily going to prevail. He says it was a shock, and also that “working together successfully can be addictive.”
The five videos are each four to six minutes long. They’re designed to help potential candidates with their decision – to run or not. The videos encourage consideration of various questions. What do I have to contribute? Am I fair-minded and trustworthy? Can I commit the time, attention and energy? And, importantly, do I want to do it?
One video is Characteristics of Effective Locally Elected Officials. It talks about having good community knowledge and a range of skills, and being diligent, ethical, open and respectful.
Mayor Bachrach notes the importance of patience and self-awareness (e.g., how to handle yourself in highly-charged situations). Tofino Mayor Josie Osborne talks about active listening skills, and insists that you don’t need a thick skin, you need a permeable one that lets in useful information and keeps the junk out. She also mentions being curious about what people think and why they might think differently than you.
What is Local Government? speaks to all the work done, including provision of services, good stewardship of taxes and fees, and regulation of certain activities (dare I mention animal control?). The video makes the point that government is not a business, and in fact is much more complex than a private sector business.
Testing Your Readiness for Local Office offers suggestions such as attending council meetings and reading the Annual Report. Think about your commitment to preparing for and participating in many, many meetings. Consider what it will be like to have a public profile – how that will affect you and the rest of your life. This is a big decision – the first of thousands, if you’re elected.
Local Government Decision-Making covers the need to know the legislated guidelines, council procedures, and principles of ethical conduct. Then add community wishes, long-term plans, staff information and advice, and what you learn from discussion around the table. Then you have a chance at a good decision.
Finally, Roles and Responsibilities of Elected Officials contains a lot of thought-provoking information and ideas. I particularly appreciated the emphasis on the role of the mayor as the facilitator of collective decision-making. And the need for elected officials to govern, to set direction and let others (staff) implement their decisions. Get out of the trenches, council!
All the videos confirmed for me that the essence of successful governing is communication skills and personal skills and values. It’s not about university degrees and awards, or whether you’ve worked in the private or public sector. I want to know what you value, how you make decisions and whether you’re willing to change.
Assuming you decide to run, the webpage has other key information about campaigns and especially the new rules around campaign financing.
So Google Thinking of Running for Local Office? But don’t get distracted by Thinking of Running Away. That one’s for me!
Donna Macdonald served 19 years on Nelson City Council until 2014. She is the author of Surviving City Hall, published in 2016.