A Word about the upcoming Council By-election

Ron Bolin: June 2, 2017

Yesterday was the closing day for applications to fill the vacancy left by the recent withdrawal of Councillor Pratt from Council.  The reasons for her departure have yet to be revealed, but the vacancy has left us with a position which must, by legislation, be filled in a by-election.  It will cost the ratepayers of Nanaimo $150,000 to bridge the gap.  (Incidentally, this is the same amount as was recently required to fund the failed referendum on the Event Centre project.)

At the close of applications at 4pm Friday afternoon, thirteen candidates had submitted their papers. The closing names were announced by the City’s Chief Electoral Officer and can be found at:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/assets/Departments/Legislative~Services/Municipal~Elections/2017~By-Election/Candidate%20Declaration%20By%20Election%202017.pdf

 

The qualifications for candidacy are simple:

A person is qualified to be nominated, elected, and to hold office as a member of local government if they meet the following criteria:

  • Canadian citizen; and,
  • 18 years of age or older on General Voting Day: Saturday, July 8, 2017; and,
  • resident of British Columbia for at least 6 months immediately before the day nomination papers are filed; and,
  • not disqualified by any enactment from being nominated for, being elected to or holding the office, or be otherwise disqualified by law.

In order to file nomination papers for candidacy, the signatures of two eligible persons are required.

All in all, these are pretty minimal qualifications.  Almost all of us could run if we so chose.  So how do we approach selecting the ones (in this case the one) to whom we will give our votes and the benefits and the headaches that come with it?  First let’s look at the job. The Community Charter which defines municipal government in BC provides the following outline of the duties entailed:

The job Description

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COMMUNITY CHARTER

[SBC 2003] CHAPTER 26

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:

(a) to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality and its community;

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

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

(d) to carry out other duties assigned by the council;

(e) 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:

(a) 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;

(b) to communicate information to the council;

(c) to preside at council meetings when in attendance;

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

(e) to establish standing committees in accordance with section 141;

(f) to suspend municipal officers and employees in accordance with section 151;

(g) to reflect the will of council and to carry out other duties on behalf of the council;

(h) to carry out other duties assigned under this or any other Act.

Duty to respect confidentiality

117  (1) A council member or former council member must, unless specifically authorized otherwise by council,

(a) keep in confidence any record held in confidence by the municipality, until the record is released to the public as lawfully authorized or required, and

(b) keep in confidence information considered in any part of a council meeting or council committee meeting that was lawfully closed to the public, until the council or committee discusses the information at a meeting that is open to the public or releases the information to the public.

(2) If the municipality suffers loss or damage because a person contravenes subsection (1) and the contravention was not inadvertent, the municipality may recover damages from the person for the loss or damage.

[Note: Section 117 above is, along with Sections 90(1) and 90(2) which deal with in-camera meetings, a primary cause of the lack of transparency in our municipal representative democratic process and can be inferred to be one of the reasons we find ourselves having a costly by-election the reasons for which are shrouded in mystery, and thus in raging rumour and speculation. This is not good.]

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The Meat on the Bones of Council

The City Council of Nanaimo, along with Nanaimo’s CAO and Staff, is responsible for a budget of approximately $200,000,000+ per year ($548,000 per day) which increases nearly every year.  Council is responsible for the overall well-being of the municipality and to contribute to the development and evaluation of the policies and programs of the municipality respecting its services and other activities.  The tasks associated with those policies, procedures and programs are carried out by the City’s CAO and Staff.  Thus each Councillor carries responsibility for over $22 million dollars of the budget each year or, putting it another way, about $61,000 per day.  Does this sound like a job that should have minimal qualifications?

 

What’s in it for the Winner(s)?

What’s in it for the winner(s) in the electoral race? In addition to the prestige (part of our current general predicament is that the job is not seen as prestigious), the base pay for the job as a Nanaimo City Councillor in 2015 (The last year for which a Statement of Financial Information or SOFI is available) was $35,437.73 with some members received up to $2,366 more by way of taxable benefits and allowances.  Councillors additionally received between $1,729.79 and $7,759.07 in expenses.

The Mayor’s remuneration that year was $95,097.56 with $28,302.37 in expenses.

In addition, 7 of our 9 members of Council automatically sit as Directors on the Board of the Regional District of Nanaimo. In 2015 Nanaimo’s RDN Board Members received between $14,276.42 and $15,626 in remuneration plus modest expenses. (Due to population increase, the RDN has budgeted for an eighth Nanaimo Director with a final decision on implementation pending.)

Additionally, City Council and RDN Board members are required to pay tax on only two-thirds of the income they receive from their municipal offices.

One of the candidates running in the current by-election intends to keep his place on the Board of the Nanaimo School District, so there is a potential for at least three income streams to any Councillor.

With the exception of the Mayor, membership on Council is considered a part time job. When considering this aspect keep in mind that:

  • Council is responsible for setting the rules and Staff is responsible for carrying them out; and
  • Work can expand to fill the time available.

 

The Schedule:

2017’s meeting schedule for Council in their various guises (Council or Committee of the Whole) can be found at:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/assets/Departments/Legislative~Services/KeyDateCalendar2017.pdf

A quick summary of the meetings which are required to perform the official duties which are laid out in the Community Charter and are scheduled in The Council Key Date Calendar for 2017 indicates that this year there will be approximately 52 Council meetings or 1 each week at which Councillors are expected to attend in order to carry out their duties on behalf of the City.

The agendas for these meetings which may consist of from about 50 to over two hundred pages of documentation for discussion and decision at these meetings are prepared by Staff whose job it is provide information and recommendations on matters of required City business under the guidance of the City Clerk:

  • GENERAL ACCOUNTABILITY Reporting to the Chief Administrative Officer, the City Clerk is responsible for the direction, organization, facilitation and administration of the City’s legislative functions. This position is designated as Corporate Officer, as outlined in the Community Charter and the Local Government Act, and acts as Chief Election Officer for all elections and referenda. As such, the incumbent must have a sound appreciation of and sensitivity to the political issues affecting the City when dealing with representatives of the media, provincial and federal government departments, various boards and commissions and the general public.
  • NATURE AND SCOPE OF WORK Plans, organizes, directs and controls, through subordinates, preparation of Council agendas, minutes, bylaws and correspondence, organization and administration of civic functions, receptions and celebrations, local government elections and referenda, preparation of the voters’ list, voter registration. Ensures all reports to Council presented from all City Staff contain the necessary information and recommendations to facilitate Council’s decision-making and conforms to Council policy and relevant statutes, bylaws and resolutions; identifies areas of concern to staff as appropriate.

For more on the duties of the City Clerk see:

http://www.nanaimo.ca/UploadedFilesPath/pdf/job_postings/CityClerkJD.pdf

It is the responsibility of all Council Members to read and understand each agenda prior to coming to the meeting and, when necessary, to ask questions regarding the matters therein contained and to otherwise familiarize themselves with the issues raised in the agenda from the perspective of and on behalf of the citizens of Nanaimo.  They must then, at a public Council meeting, vote on motions involving City business which are to be carried out by City Staff.

Other duties include membership on and attendance at the meetings of City committees or other municipally sanctioned agencies to which they have been assigned.

Beyond these duties it is pretty much up to the individual Councillors to define what other functions they may wish to perform, i.e. responding to citizens personally, by phone or email and/or attending private functions, or providing or requesting opinions in the media.  These functions can take up as much time and effort as an individual Councillor may wish to give to them, i.e. to fill the time that they have available after fulfilling their required duties.

While the job of Councillor can be all consuming, I leave it to you to look at the required number of meetings and reading and to determine the extent to which the job is part time.  You may also wish to contemplate whether additional time on the part of individual Councillors would improve or impair the functioning of Council.

 

Intentions

We need to get past the intentions of Councillors and would-be Councillors quickly.  I, for one, do not doubt the good intentions of either our current Councillors or our thirteen by-election candidates. But as the saying goes: “the road to hell is paved with good intentions”…  So we need to get beyond intentions…

 

Records

Another great saying states that: “by their works you shall know them”. And in this context I suggest that the extra mile beyond the bare requirements of the job of City Councillors is that they demonstrate their works more by what they have shown in community participation than what they say about what they want to see done in the City.  In this regard academic education may help, but activities in the community and in particular in the governance of our City are paramount. I suggest that in talking to candidates in the upcoming election that you ask questions like these:

  • How many City Council meetings have you attended prior to running for Council?
  • How many delegations have you presented to Council?
  • How many questions have you asked at Question Period?
  • How many letters about City business have you written to the City or the media?
  • What are the three major problems facing Nanaimo and how do you suggest that they be solved?
  • What items do you find most important in the next Council agenda?
  • How are property taxes calculated?
  • What conferences do you propose to attend as a representative of the City of Nanaimo?
  • What is the major social problem facing the City of Nanaimo and how do you propose to deal with it?
  • What is the major financial problem facing the City of Nanaimo and how do you propose to deal with it?
  • What is your strategy for approaching the City’s budget preparation for the 2018-2022 financial plan?
  • There has been a great deal of talk about the inability of our present Council to act coherently and with respect. Why do you believe that this impression has been created and what do you think can be done about it?

Responses to these questions and others can help us get an idea of who might best represent our interests, remembering that “we” don’t necessarily all share the same interests, but need to understand how they relate to the individual candidates.

What is to be done?

At this time I am unaware of any organized All-Candidates meetings or other public events which will permit the public to see our prospective Councillors in Public and acting together on a matter of great public concern as they will have to do in any eventual Council meetings if elected.

How are we to make the best decision on a Council replacement in the short time left before the by-election on July 8?

We have only a few weeks to E-Day. Your suggestions on what can be done to reveal the high and low points of each candidate are requested…

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