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So you want to be a city councillor? Here's what it takes

October 02, 2014 - 3:01 PM

THOMPSON-OKANAGAN - Most people realize there is a city council in place to help run the city, but few understand just what goes into being the mayor or a councillor.

While the roles can change significantly depending on the city, the council member and the needs of the community at that time, we decided to lay out the very basics of what you need to know about the position.

Just what does a council member do?

The role of the mayor and councillors varies, but as a council, the members create bylaws and policies that govern the city. They help decide who to hire (though council only directly hires the Chief Administrative Officer), what land to keep or sell, what bylaws to put in place and where to invest money. City staff can make recommendations but ultimately council has the final say, as long as it falls under provincial or federal guidelines.

Councils may meet every week to two weeks for a regular council meeting, as well as attend public hearings, committee meetings and community events. While not mandatory, some council members choose to attend regional district, Union of B.C. Municipalities and Federation of Canadian Municipalities meetings as well.

Public engagement is a key part of the role, though every council and every councillor determines how big of a role to make it. Public engagement can include cheque presentations, grand openings, community celebrations, stopping to chat in the coffee shop, answering phone calls and responding to emails.

How much time do you need to commit?

One former Kamloops city councillor estimates she spent 20-30 hours per week on council obligations, from committee meetings and community events to regular council meetings and the preparation required for each of the meetings.

“A decision to run is a decision to not do something else,” Nancy Bepple said last year. “And as a councillor, everyone takes on additional duties (and it takes) a reasonable amount of time to do a good job.”

Kelowna Coun. Mohini Singh estimates she spends about 13 hours a week in meetings and overall works at least 20 hours every week.

“It’s a lot more work than you think it will be. It’s not just meetings, you have to meet with the public, sometimes early in the morning or late in the evening,” Singh says. “You also have to read everything before the meeting and in some cases you have to view locations and talk to opponents and the developer so you have a clear understanding of what the issue is.”

In Kamloops several councillors put in even more time and while they are able to juggle a career and life as a councillor it comes at a cost.

Coun. Donovan Cavers runs his own catering business and says he dropped $10,000 in net income the year after getting elected, something he attributes to the necessary time put into being a councillor. He says he often finds himself answering emails at all times of the day and the role of being a councillor has cut more into his personal time than his business and accepts that he's put that expectation on himself.

“That's what I'd expect any other councillor to do,” he notes. “What I see from a good councillor is somebody who is always available and accessible and that's one of the things I try to do personally.”

How much is a council member paid?

Currently city councillors in the Interior are paid between $21,000-$31,000 with mayors earning between $60,000 and $88,000 (Penticton has the lowest pay for both while Kelowna has the highest.)

Councillors are also paid for acting as deputy mayor (filling in for the mayor when they are not available) and are reimbursed for a number of expenses. Expenses are determined by each council but can include things such as cell phones and mileage.

Council members are also paid for sitting on some committees or boards, such as regional districts.

How many council members are elected?

The number of council numbers is determined by population, as per the Community Charter. For communities with a population of more than 50,000 council is made up of one mayor and eight councillors. For populations of less than 50,000 council is one mayor and six councillors.

Elections for city council take place as part of the civic election where school trustees and regional district directors are elected as well.

Who should run for council?

“There’s a lot of time-juggling, both personal and work related,” Singh says. “You have to have a very supportive spouse. The family has to be supportive otherwise it’s impossible.”

Singh says being part of council is her way of giving back to her city.

“This is my home and this is where I’m raising my child so I want Kelowna to be the best city it can possibly be.”
 
She notes a councillor should be someone who is focused on getting answers and is dedicated to the community.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Jennifer Stahn at jstahn@infonews.ca or call 250-819-3723. To contact an editor, email mjones@infonews.ca or call 250-718-2724.

News from © InfoTel News Ltd, 2014
InfoTel News Ltd

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