Be prepared to do lots of reading and research, be prepared for things to not always go your way, and be prepared to have a thick skin. That’s some of the advice that councillors had on Tuesday night in an open house talking about civic life, meant to inform people who are considering running for municipal office.
Local political organizer Sabine Dietz put together the event which was attended by most of council, many staff, and a handful of citizens.
Hear this story as reported on Tantramar Report:
You can watch the full proceedings online, or check out CHMA Talks to hear more of what councillors had to say.
Dietz asked councillors to talk about what inspired them to run for council, and why others might consider doing the same. Councillor Allison Butcher cast a wide net for those would might want to consider throwing their hat in the ring.
“If people are satisfied with things as I was,” said Butcher, “then why not be a part of continuing to make it a good place to live? And if people are dissatisfied with how things are going, then what better way to effect change than to be a part of the council at the municipal level?”
Many councillors highlighted the need for diversity of opinions, not just to get a better quality of decision, but also to give voters choices.
“It’s really important for people to run for council so that people voting have choices,” said Councillor Bill Evans. “If only eight people offer then then the citizens don’t have a choice in picking the kind of council they want.”
Both Andrew Black and Allison Butcher described their decision process in running for council, and each noted that others had asked and encouraged them to run. Both also acknowledged that being already well-known in the community likely helped them at the polls.
The consensus also seemed to be that the job required a lot of work, particularly in terms of research, reading, and meetings, but that it was manageable. Several councillors had full time jobs and young families during their tenure, and they noted that town staff made efforts to accommodate schedules and make it work.
Councillor Mike Tower added that in addition to the workload, any new councillor must also be prepared for not always getting their way.
“Whoever’s gonna run for council should be prepared to put the hours in, to do the research, so that you can make your arguments and try to persuade members of the team,” said Tower. But after that, councillors also have to be ready to accept the group’s decision, regardless of whether you are personally in favour. “If council says no to a motion, or says yes to a motion which you’re against, it’s over and it’s done. Move on. That motion was by council, and you have to accept that. It’s the proper thing,” said Tower.
Bill Evans echoed that sentiment when he described the work of council as a team sport:
“You have to come in and recognize that if you get elected, you have a right to be here, and so does everybody else,” said Evans. “You have to work with those people. Not your friends, not with people who agree with you. You have to work with this group of people who collectively represent the people in town.”
“I think if you go in with reasonable expectations, that it’s going to be challenging, and you have a serious job to do, then you’re going to be just fine,” said Evans. “The town will be just fine with a bunch of people like that.”
Councillors also shared some thoughts on the public scrutiny they face as elected politicians. Allison Butcher said she was surprised by a certain attitude when we was first elected.
“The thing that shocked me most at the beginning was the people who were like, ‘Oh, yeah, council, they don’t care about the town,’” said Butcher. “And I always thought, what a bizarre concept, that people would think you would run for council of a community because you don’t care about it.”
“I know that people often get upset about things when they feel they lack control,” said Butcher, “or it’s easier to get annoyed about something than to actually do something about it. But council is a way to make things better, to be a part of a solution. And that’s why it’s important.”
Bill Evans also said that while, “working together to affect positive change is wonderfully rewarding,” there are down sides.
“People will say, you know, unpleasant things,” said Evans. “They’ll accuse you of being dishonest or incompetent, and you don’t believe that you’re either.”
“I think more people would run if fewer people treated elected officials that way,” said Evans, “but that’s the reality of it. So if you’re going to run for office, you will become a public figure and expose yourself to that sort of thing.”
Though many councillors noted the negative aspect of public feedback, they also talked about the positive feedback that can come from members of the public when they feel their concerns have been represented, and the satisfaction from feeling that you’ve helped make an improvement to life in Sackville.
“Sometimes when you get behind something, and you see it succeed, then you see the result of it,” said Mike Tower, “that’s a pretty darn good feeling inside.”
Tune in to CHMA Talks Thursday at 6pm to hear more of what councillors had to say, or watch the full proceedings online.
Anyone interested in running for town council has until April 9, 2021 at 2pm to submit their paperwork to Elections NB.