So you are a New Councilor – Now What?


If you had the opportunity to see the swearing-in ceremony of the new Council this past December, one thing’s clear – this group is nothing like we have ever seen before.

And it’s not like we’ve never had an enthusiastic newbie, or tech savvy councilors. It’s not even their aggregated younger ages. What’s astonishing is it’s all of the above. Young, eager, savvy, and new.  Well almost new save and except the three incumbents whom, it would appear, have embraced this new enthusiasm with all the excitement of parents bringing home their first newborn.

So with the celebratory winds now subsided and the reality of enormously complex workloads just ahead, advice for this new council will come pouring in from all quarters. And, like any Council, one of their most difficult decisions will be knowing who to listen to. There is nothing quite like good advice to start you off on the right path, and nothing like following bad advice to get you off the path entirely.

Right out of the gate, kudos to City Manager Art Zuidema for having organized one of the most rigorous orientations any Council before this has ever seen. Team building at the Ivey School, City site visits, departmental overviews, stakeholder relations – the works. What an excellent way for new players on a team to get used to their new surroundings.

Someone recently opined in the Free Press that the new Council shouldn’t listen to the advice of the administration. Instead the Council should just strike out on their own and make decisions based on instincts and intuition.  Say what? That may be the worst advice I have ever heard. In fact, now is the perfect time to rely on the wisdom and experience of the administration. There will be plenty of time over the next four years to trust their instincts and intuition. Right now they’re about to be hit by a buzz saw so sage advice from the admin team is exactly what the doctor ordered.

Quite apart from the advice this Council will receive from staff, where else can they find the answers to the myriad of questions that they will face in the days ahead?

From a business perspective, let’s start with the London Chamber of Commerce – an institution that has been providing City Councils with sound, reasoned, and well researched advice for over 150 years. Then of course there is also the LEDC, the Small Business Centre, and Progress London to name a few.

From a growth perspective there’s the London Home Builders, the London St. Thomas Association of Realtors, and the London Development Institute. And from the labour side of the growth agenda there is LiUNA (Labourer’s International Union of North America), the London and District Trades Council, the London and District Construction Trades Council and many more – all ready, willing, and able to assist with a balanced, and informed perspective on economic growth.

As for the many questions new Councilors may have about roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities as good stewards of our tax dollars, a good resource for these questions can be found in The Municipal Councilor’s Guide published by the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. (All references in this Guide are to the Municipal Act, 2001)

Even seasoned council veterans will encounter questions that are new. Knowing where to go for information on the roles, regulations, and requirements will help them to fulfil their roles. Not only will this guide help them meet their responsibilities, most importantly it will help them to provide high-quality service to the residents of London, a mission that often gets lost in the rhetoric of the pre and post-election cycle.

The guide examines the roles of council and councilors, governance and law-making in the municipal setting, the fiscal context, and land-use planning to name a few.

A good starting point in the guide is the Roles of Council where it outlines some of their roles as follows:

(a) to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality

(b) to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality

(c)  to determine which services the municipality provides

(d) to ensure that administrative policies, practices and procedures and controllership policies, practices and procedures are in place to implement the decisions of council

(d.1) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality

(e) to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality

As for the Role of the Mayor, the Act is quite specific: It’s the Mayor’s role

(a) to act as the municipality’s chief executive officer

(b) to preside over council meetings so that its business can be carried out efficiently and effectively

(c)  to provide the council with leadership

(d) to represent the municipality at official functions and

(e) to carry out the duties of a head of council under this or any other act.

Oh, and the Mayor has some “special” responsibilities too, namely to act as the representative of the municipality both within and outside the municipality, and promote the municipality locally, nationally and internationally and to foster activities that enhance the economic, social and environmental well-being of the municipality and its residents.

So there it is in a nutshell – the guide book of all guide books, the numero-uno reference tool, the go-to source for all knowledge and information.  Okay maybe that’s a bit of a stretch but, let’s just say that when that new councilor or mayor is ever in doubt as to what their real roles and responsibilities are, no matter who may be suggesting otherwise – my advice – see the Councilor’s Guide – PLEASE!

Note: the full guide can be located on the following website: Mah.gov.on.ca/AssetFactory.aspx?did=4965

AMO (Association of Municipalities of Ontario) also has excellent resources for councilors on the following site: http://www.amo.on.ca/AMO-Content/Municipal-101/How-Municipal-Government-Works.aspx

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