Five terrible reasons to run for municipal office

Ever wonder what motivates a person to run for municipal council?

Ever wonder what motivates a person to run for municipal council?

In many Alberta communities this year, there are high numbers of candidates for council, as well as many mayoral hopefuls. But it seems that with every election, I repeatedly hear the same misguided and even mendacious rationales for taking the plunge. As a former councillor, I’m dismayed and even irritated by people who expect the voter to select them when they haven’t done their homework and they don’t have the right intentions.

Here are my top five bad reasons to run:

•••

“People are ready for change!”

Newsflash: every new candidate says that, every election. Sometimes it’s true; sometimes it’s just perception. Often, when voters go behind that screen, they get a bit scared of change (which is natural) and they go for the known quantity. That aside, you just plain need a better reason to run. If the best you can do is “Hey, I’m new!”… I mean, come on. You need to understand taxation, budgets, financial statements, water, sewer, garbage, road construction, residential/commercial/industrial development, the role of governance, intermunicipal relations, bylaws, social and economic development and more.

Have you done your homework on this stuff? Do you have informed positions? Do you have proven leadership experience? Have you ever even sat on a board?

As a voter I need to know about what qualifies you for the job and that you get it. Simply representing “change” is woefully inadequate.

Furthermore, as of the day you are sworn in, you officially cease being “change” and become part of the institution — it’s what you’re signing up for. And if you think that folks are magically going to like you better than the last group, think again. The moment you sit down to the council table, you officially become “them.” This I promise.

•••

“I’m going to clean house!”

Uh, no you’re not.

If you envision yourself walking into the municipal office taking over operations, firing a bunch of people, and generally sticking your nose into administration’s business, you’re in for a rude awakening.

If you want to manage your town or city, apply for the job. The CAO’s job is management; your role as a councillor is governance. You don’t get to direct the staff. You are not the bylaw officer, the public works foreman or the HR director. In fact, you have only one employee — the CAO.

And guess what? In many communities, the CAO has an employment contract. You can’t just ditch this guy so you can take over running the place.

Get a new guy and you still don’t have the right to manage the municipality. Besides, removal would take a majority vote of council and would cost the ratepayers a whole bunch of money.

You don’t have to like the town manager or any of the staff but as a councillor, you are legally bound to do things properly (spoiler alert: you’re going to take an oath to that affect if you get elected).

•••

“I’m going to fix the [insert pet peeve] situation!”

Another very misguided statement that reveals a fundamental lack of understanding of how councils function.

It’s an interesting dichotomy, of course, since candidates run as individuals but then they have to work as a team once elected to get anything accomplished.

The truth of the matter is that you have no power outside of council chambers. Even around the council table, your power extends only to the amount of influence you can leverage during debate, and to your (one) vote.

You ought never overstep your bounds or ram through your personal agenda. You have a responsibility to consider all matters related to the strategic and fiscal direction of your municipality, and your job, as one member of a team, is to find ways to work together to make wise, informed, responsible decisions for the benefit of all. You are one of a group of decision-makers; no more, no less.

You won’t have the ability to unilaterally wave a magic wand and fix all of the potholes (although people will think you can).

If you make promises you can’t keep, you perpetuate the stereotype of politician. So stop it.

•••

“We have to get rid of the current corrupt/secretive/self-serving/incompetent bunch!”

Ah, the ever popular “anti” campaign … this tactic, sadly, is often successful. It resonates with coffee clatches and angry people.

The problem is that while it may get you elected, it’s a poor foundation for being an effective mayor or member of council.

The day after you “get rid” of the last bunch, you have to actually do something. You will have a whole bunch of really important decisions in front of you; stuff that is already in process, that the previous council that you thought was so useless was working hard to deliberate over and consider and that perhaps you should have put some time into understanding.

An individual with a personal grievance who runs for office is not just in danger of being an ineffective councillor — these folks can be downright destructive.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: anybody can tear down; tell me what you are going to build.

•••

“I’m going to make fiscal responsibility my No. 1 priority!”

This may well be the most irresponsible statement of all.

If all you want to do is find ways to save money, then let’s abolish property taxes right now and we can all go home. After all, what’s the point of even having taxes if the only thing we care about is not spending any money?

My point is this: yes, fiscal accountability and responsible spending are very, very important. And no one likes paying taxes, me included.

But the No. 1 responsibility of the councillor is not fiscal responsibility — it is to build community infrastructure for future generations.

Shame on you if in five, 10 or 25 years there is no water or sewer capacity or the roads are falling to pieces or there are insufficient playgrounds and recreation opportunities because you were busy pinching pennies instead of building a community.

There are good councillors and bad councillors most everywhere. Some mayors and councillors who should never be in office do get elected, and sometimes people are justifiably upset by actions and decisions. I get that.

But to the voter: can we agree to make informed decisions at the polls, instead of vilifying the entire group without, in many cases, even a basic understanding of the role, the decisions, the full story? How about those critical thinking skills, gang?

Why should you actually run for council? You should run because you wish to serve your community, to provide good leadership, to plan and build for the future. You should run because you have a contribution to make, ideas to be shared, passion that won’t abate and a commitment to do the right thing no matter what. You should run if you understand that you will have to sacrifice popularity and family time, and that you will have to sometimes make decisions that benefit the community as a whole but don’t benefit you personally. You should run if you want a better future for your grandchildren, and your grandchildren’s grandchildren.

If any of the five terrible reasons I mentioned frame up your election campaign, take heart: it’s not too late. You can withdraw from the race now and free up a seat for qualified people with proper intent. Or you can reflect on your intentions and set a new course with a commitment to serve your community for the all the right reasons.

Danielle Klooster is a Penhold town councillor and business retention, expansion and investment officer for Central Alberta: Access Prosperity. She is not running for re-election. See more at http://danikloo.com/

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Alberta had 1,571 active COVID-19 cases on Tuesday. THE CANADIAN PRESS
Alberta’s central zone now has 1,101 active COVID-19 cases

Provincial death toll has risen by nine

Dustin Mitchell (Coats) is wanted by police in relation to a homicide this past Wednesday. (Photo contributed by Red Deer RCMP)
Red Deer RCMP looking for man in relation to homicide

An arrest warrant has been issued for a Red Deer man in… Continue reading

COVID-19. (Image courtesy CDC)
Alberta reports 1,731 new COVID-19 cases on Saturday

The province’s central zone has 992 active cases

Collin Orthner, manager at McBain Camera in downtown Red Deer, stands behind the store’s counter on Saturday. (Photo by Sean McIntosh/Advocate staff)
A few Red Deer businesses happy with Black Friday results

While this year’s Black Friday wasn’t as successful as it was in… Continue reading

Le Chateau Inc. is the latest Canadian firm to start producing personal protective equipment for health care workers, in a July 3, 2020 story. (Photo by THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Hundreds of millions of dollars for frontline workers yet to be released, says Alberta Federation of Labour

Information recently released by the Alberta Federation of Labour suggests more than… Continue reading

Idyllic winter scenes are part of the atmosphere of the holiday season, and are depicted in many seasonal movies. How much do you know about holiday movies? Put your knowledge to the test. (Pixabay.com)
QUIZ: Test your knowledge of holiday movies and television specials

The festive season is a time for relaxing and enjoying some seasonal favourites

Conservative MP Pierre Poilievre speaks during a news conference Monday, Nov. 16, 2020 in Ottawa. Poilievre says building up the Canadian economy post-pandemic can't be achieved without a massive overhaul of the tax system and regulatory regime. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Conservatives attack Trudeau’s ‘reset’ but they have ideas for their own

‘We don’t need subsidized corporate welfare schemes that rely on endless bailouts from the taxpayer’

In this undated photo issued by the University of Oxford, a volunteer is administered the coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, in Oxford, England. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca said Monday Nov. 23, 2020, that late-stage trials showed its coronavirus vaccine was up to 90% effective, giving public health officials hope they may soon have access to a vaccine that is cheaper and easier to distribute than some of its rivals. (University of Oxford/John Cairns via AP)
Moderna chairman says Canada near head of line for 20 million vaccine doses

Trudeau created a firestorm when he said Canadians will have to wait a bit to get vaccinated

There were 47 new COVID-19 cases in Alberta Tuesday. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Paul Chiasson)
Spread of COVID-19 in Brampton, Ont., linked to systemic factors, experts say

‘We’re tired. We’re numb. We’re overworked. We’re frustrated, because it’s not our rules’

The courthouse in Iqaluit is shown on Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020. Three Nunavut judges, including the chief justice, are at odds over whether prison conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic should be considered when sentencing offenders in the territory. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Emma Tranter
Nunavut judges disagree on how to sentence offenders during pandemic

IQALUIT — Three Nunavut judges, including the territory’s chief justice, are at… Continue reading

A corrections officer opens the door to a cell in the segregation unit at the federal Fraser Valley Institution for Women during a media tour, in Abbotsford, B.C., Thursday, Oct. 26, 2017. Independent reviews of the hundreds of inmates placed in segregation over the past year found only a handful were inappropriate, new government data indicate. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Few federal inmates moved from solitary after external reviews, new data show

‘There can be rare cases where the removal may not be immediate’

A couple embrace during a ceremony to mark the end of a makeshift memorial for victims of the Toronto van attack, at Yonge St. and Finch Ave. in Toronto on Sunday, June 3, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Cole Burston
‘I’ve been spared a lot,’ van attack survivor says as she watches trial alone

Court has set up a private room for victims and families of those killed in the Toronto van attack

Banff National Park. (The Canadian Press)
Study finds train speed a top factor in wildlife deaths in Banff, Yoho national parks

EDMONTON — A study looking at 646 wildlife deaths on railway tracks… Continue reading

Cows on pasture at the University of Vermont dairy farm eat hay Thursday, July 23, 2020, in Burlington, Vt. Canadian dairy farmers are demanding compensation from the government because of losses to their industry they say have been caused by a series of international trade deals. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Lisa Rathke
Feds unveil more funding for dairy, poultry and egg farmers hurt by free trade deals

OTTAWA — Canadian egg and poultry farmers who’ve lost domestic market share… Continue reading

Most Read