Just what have you gotten into? - Denny Scott editorial
With the municipal election less than two months away, those throwing their hats in the ring to become a municipal council member for the first time should be getting ready for the possibility that they might win and what that means for not only their schedule, but their mental health as well.
You see, this is as much a service for you as it is a warning: being a council member can be a thankless job and I know that I play a part in making it that way. Fortunately for me, holding politicians to account is exactly what’s expected of me. Fortunately for you, I also revel in calling out the trolls on their nonsense. Ours will be a complicated relationship.
There will be happy moments, sad moments, angry moments and everything in between for every councillor elected in October, so you had best prepare yourself for long hours, plenty of criticism and less pay than most people think.
Actually, that’s a great place to start. You’re going to need thick skin because people will look for any opportunity to badmouth or discredit you and critics often go for council remuneration.
My first bit of advice is don’t ignore the internet trolls, but also don’t react to them either. You need to be ready to remark on their lunacy, but don’t get dragged into it. A perfect example are the claims being made around remuneration in North Huron. Despite what some misinformed folks on the world wide web say, being a North Huron councillor isn’t a job that pays $500 an hour. In North Huron, councillors would need to attend between 250 and 450 meetings throughout the year to get there (likely 500 to 1,000 hours worth of meetings, if you’re wondering) to make $50,000 as a councillor, and a good chunk of that is reimbursement for out-of-pocket costs. In reality, councillors in North Huron can make $65 for a short meeting (less than
two hours) or as little as $20 per hour for longer meetings, provided they cap out at six hours.
Despite the fact that councillors attend hundreds of hours of council and committee meetings per year (and likely miss out on paid work, if they’re not retired, to do so), there will still be people out there who will say they’re overpaid. So, you better get used to that.
You also need to do your research before you start spouting off during a council meeting, especially now that most council meetings are recorded and/or broadcast online. Gone are the days when the only people keeping dutiful notes of every utterance were people like me typing furiously in the corner. Now, everyone can go online and find out if what you said was what you said, or if the folks at the corner coffee shop may have been blowing a little smoke.
So prepare yourselves, council hopefuls. Read your agendas ahead of time. Don’t ask questions that are answered in the
staff reports and, if you’re going to make off-the-wall claims, you’d better a) hope that you’re not saying something that’s refuted
in the very report being discussed or b) relying on those good old fallacies they teach in most first-year post-secondary classes because, if I’m the one covering the meeting, I’m going to call you on it (and honestly, I’m going to enjoy it, I’m just built like that).
You should also be ready to give up a lot of home time. Aside from hundreds of hours of official meetings that you do get paid for, a lot of council members will just be asked to be at events, and sometimes, council decides you don’t get paid for those. Things like ribbon-cuttings, cheque presentations and local celebrations will be on your social calendar whether you want them to be or not and you might be out of pocket for them. Them’s the breaks, kiddos.
Lastly, remember that your accredited local media is here to help. As much guff as you may get in this very space (or the one beside here, if you happen to be a member of one of the councils Shawn covers) or in Letters to the Editors, that feedback is important. You need to know when people think you’ve missed the mark so you can either remedy it or present a damned good reason why you made a decision the way you did.
I’m not trying to scare anyone away (it’s too late for that, right?) but you should know what you’re walking into. It won’t be easy if you get elected, but, as long as you filed your candidacy for the right reasons it will all seem worth it when you look back, so much so that you may decide to run again if you’re a real glutton for punishment. Good luck.