(AEN) - Have you ever thought of running for election as a municipal councillor or alderman?
With nomination day just a month away, this is the perfect time to jump in and learn what it takes means to be a part of your municipal council.
Who can run?
In a word, anybody! Any resident of the electoral district who is a Canadian citizen, has been living in the district for six consecutive months and is eligible to vote can run as a candidate in the municipal election. There are certain restrictions that apply, such as for employees of the municipality. Otherwise, all you need is the will to let your name stand and the names of five other people who are eligible to vote in your jurisdiction and willing to support your nomination.
What is the time commitment?
Every municipality sets up a different schedule, but councils generally have one or two public meetings every month. All council business has to be discussed in public, except for certain private matters, such as individual employee salaries. Those private meetings may be held before or after the regular council meeting.
Council will also hold extra meetings to set the budget for the year. This process can take several weeks or even longer if there are contentious budget issues to be decided.
There are occasions when council will be required to hold special meetings, for example to discuss an issue that is time sensitive and can’t wait for the next regularly scheduled meeting.
Municipal councils take part in many boards and committees concerning everything from the local library to Alberta Municipal Affairs. At least one alderman is required to represent the municipality on each of these committees or boards. Councils hold an organizational meeting once a year to determine which alderman will sit on each of those boards. The selected aldermen are then expected to attend regular meetings of whatever board or council they are chosen to sit on.
If you choose to run for election as a municipal councillor, you should know that it’s a four-year commitment.
In some municipalities, being an alderman is a full-time job and they are compensated accordingly. In others jurisdictions, councillors plan their meeting schedules around their ‘day jobs’ and are paid for their time and any expenses incurred while doing business for the municipality.
The mayor or reeve acts as the chief elected officer of the municipality. The mayor is expected to assume all the duties of a regular councillor, as well as helping set agendas and chairing council meetings and representing the municipality at public functions. The mayor has no veto power over the other aldermen, though he or she may provide the tie-breaker vote on occasion.
In some municipalities the mayor or reeve is elected separately from the other councillors. In other municipalities, council chooses a mayor from among the elected alderman at the annual organizational meeting.
How does it work?
Simply put, council makes bylaws, sets policies and determines the strategic direction for the municipality, guided by Alberta’s Municipal Government Act (MGA). It is then up to the administrative staff, led by the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), to implement those bylaws, policies and strategies.
Council directs the CAO, who in turn oversees the administration and staff of the municipality. The only municipal employee who reports directly to council is the CAO.
Council must also be careful to avoid performing any tasks or duties that are actually the responsibility of the administrative staff.
Why should you run?
You’ve probably heard it said, “If you choose not to vote, you lose the right to complain.”
In a way, the same logic can be applied to taking part in municipal government: If you want a say in the way your city (town, county, MD) is run, there’s no better way to be heard than by sitting on the city council.
As a member of your municipal council, you provide a valuable service to your community. You will take part in making decisions and setting bylaws regarding community services, recreation, road maintenance, housing and economic development. The decisions you make will affect the quality of life for current and future residents of your municipality.
Those who run for municipal council usually have an interest in local government and politics in general. They are often people who have been actively involved in their community in other ways, such as sitting on boards and committees or volunteering with service organizations. Sometimes they are business owners who want to protect their investment. Some people run simply because there are issues that they want to see addressed in their community. Others may consider municipal politics as a first step towards their goal of one day running for provincial or federal office.
The mayor and councillors of a municipality enjoy some level of public recognition, depending on the size of the municipality. As an elected official, you may find that people approach you with council business whenever you leave your home, whether you are representing the municipality at a function or simply picking up milk at the grocery store.
If you enjoy being in the public eye, don’t mind public speaking, are interested in municipal politics, enjoy sitting on boards and committees and want to do whatever you can to make life better in your community, being a municipal councillor might be the right job for you.
To learn more about what it takes to be a municipal councillor, and what you need to do to get your name on the ballot, visit albertaleaders.ca. You might also consider attending a Candidate Information Session in your area. In the Capital region, the information session will be held Wednesday, August 28, from 7 – 10 p.m. at the Executive Royal Inn in Nisku.