So You want to be a City Councillor – Part 1

Ron Bolin:  Feb. 8, 2011

So you want to be a Nanaimo City Councillor, eh?  Let’s take a look at the job that you are angling for.  The foundation of these positions arises from the Province’s Community Charter.  Here is what it says about the job:

The Job Description:

“Community Charter: Part 5 — Municipal Government and Procedures

Division 1 — Council Roles and Responsibilities

Council as governing body

  • 114 (1) The members of a municipal council are the mayor and the councillors.
  • (2) Despite a change in its membership, the council of a municipality is a continuing body and may complete any proceedings started but not completed before the change.
  • (3) The powers, duties and functions of a municipality are to be exercised and performed by its council, except as otherwise provided under this or another Act, and a council, in exercising or performing its powers, duties and functions, is acting as the governing body of the municipality.
  • (4) A council has all necessary power to do anything incidental or conducive to the exercise or performance of any power, duty or function conferred on a council or municipality by this or any other enactment.

Responsibilities of council members

  • 115 Every council member has the following responsibilities:

o   to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality and its community;

o   to contribute to the development and evaluation of the policies and programs of the municipality respecting its services and other activities;

o   to participate in council meetings, committee meetings and meetings of other bodies to which the member is appointed;

o   to carry out other duties assigned by the council;

o   to carry out other duties assigned under this or any other Act.

Responsibilities of mayor

  • 116 (1) The mayor is the head and chief executive officer of the municipality.
  • (2) In addition to the mayor’s responsibilities as a member of council, the mayor has the following responsibilities:

o   to provide leadership to the council, including by recommending bylaws, resolutions and other measures that, in the mayor’s opinion, may assist the peace, order and good government of the municipality;

o   to communicate information to the council;

o   to preside at council meetings when in attendance;

o   to provide, on behalf of the council, general direction to municipal officers respecting implementation of municipal policies, programs and other directions of the council;

o   to establish standing committees in accordance with section 141;

o   to suspend municipal officers and employees in accordance with section 151;

o   to reflect the will of council and to carry out other duties on behalf of the council;

o   to carry out other duties assigned under this or any other Act.”

The time allotted for the performance of these functions is outlined each year in the Council Key Dates Calendar.  The Key Date Calendar for 2011 shows that there are 18 scheduled Council meetings, 19 scheduled Finance Policy Committee of the Whole (FPCOW) meetings, and 12 Public Hearings, for a total of 49 scheduled meetings in 2011, i.e. slightly less than 1 meeting per week.  A Councillor may be assigned to one or more of these Committees, some of which meet regularly.  This will take the numbers of meetings per week to more than one.

Advisory Committees

Commissions (includes Commission Sub-Committees)


Review Panel

Working Groups

In addition, seven of the nine elected Councillors, will be expected to serve on the Board of the Regional District of Nanaimo.  In 2011 the RDN will hold 11 Board meetings and 10 Committee of the whole meetings which Nanaimo representative Board members are expected to attend. These positions are paid separately at the rate assigned to the Regional board.

Councillors may be expected to perform other functions on behalf of the city such as dedications, appearances and participation in major local social, sports or recreation events, etc.  This is largely at their personal discretion but can help at election time.

Councillors can hold down full time jobs, may be employed part time, be in school, or be retired.  There have been all three types on Council and all have been more or less capable.  I believe that the office of Mayor is a full time job, but nothing in the Charter demands it.

City Administration

The following sections from the Community Charter describe the Administrative Officers of any city in British Columbia through whom Council’s policies and programs are to be implemented.

“Division 5 — Officers and Employees

Officer positions

  • 146 A council

o   must, by bylaw, establish officer positions in relation to the powers, duties and functions under sections 148 [corporate officer] and 149 [financial officer],

o   may, by bylaw, establish other officer positions, and

o   may assign powers, duties and functions to its officer positions.

Chief administrative officer

  • 147 A bylaw under section 146 may establish the position of chief administrative officer of the municipality, whose powers, duties and functions include the following:

o   overall management of the operations of the municipality;

o   ensuring that the policies, programs and other directions of the council are implemented;

o   advising and informing the council on the operation and affairs of the municipality.

Corporate officer

  • 148 One of the municipal officer positions must be assigned the responsibility of corporate administration, which includes the following powers, duties and functions:

o   ensuring that accurate minutes of the meetings of the council and council committees are prepared and that the minutes, bylaws and other records of the business of the council and council committees are maintained and kept safe;

o   ensuring that access is provided to records of the council and council committees, as required by law or authorized by the council;

o   administering oaths and taking affirmations, affidavits and declarations required to be taken under this Act or any other Act relating to municipalities;

o   certifying copies of bylaws and other documents, as required or requested;

o   accepting, on behalf of the council or municipality, notices and documents that are required or permitted to be given to, served on, filed with or otherwise provided to the council or municipality;

o   keeping the corporate seal, if any, and having it affixed to documents as required.

Financial officer

  • 149 One of the municipal officer positions must be assigned the responsibility of financial administration, which includes the following powers, duties and functions:

o   receiving all money paid to the municipality;

o   ensuring the keeping of all funds and securities of the municipality;

o   investing municipal funds, until required, in authorized investments;

o   expending municipal money in the manner authorized by the council;

o   ensuring that accurate records and full accounts of the financial affairs of the municipality are prepared, maintained and kept safe;

o   exercising control and supervision over all other financial affairs of the municipality.

A common problem in municipal governance is the misunderstanding of the roles of the Mayor and Council and the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) and other administration officers.  Read what is required of these positions in the Community Charter. In theory the functions of each are clear.  In operation they are less so and can easily become confused to the detriment of all involved, Council, Administration and citizen ratepayers.  I have written about this previously in a posting entitled: Speaking about the Upcoming Municipal Elections and have recommended that all candidates read carefully George Cuff’s two small volumes dealing with municipal governance which are referenced there: 1) Cuff’s Guide for Municipal Leaders: A Survival Guide for Elected Officials; and 2) Cuff’s Guide for Municipal Leaders: The Case for Effective Governance.

Too often candidates put themselves forward in good faith but without the basic knowledge of the job for which they are applying to make themselves truly useful for several years.  We are interested in democracy, not dumbocracy, and it is incumbent on those putting themselves forward to demonstrate that they not only have ideas, but have knowledge of the context, policies and procedures within which they must work to see those ideas bear fruit. A candidate owes it to his fellow citizens to be ready to fully engage in the office for which she/he is running from the get-go rather than after several years of frustrating on the job training –or never.  A good heart and good intentions are not enough to make an effective Mayor or Councillor or an effective Council.

Comments would be appreciated from past or present Mayors or Councillors, past or present candidates and of course from voters or potential voters.  How can we do a better job?  Or are we doing as well as we can?