We can grumble about the decisions that have been made by the City Council during the past 3 years. We can also, as investors, take an active role in helping shape future discussions and decisions that take place during the next 4 years. A very important step in that process was for existing aldermen and hopeful candidates to attend a workshop facilitated by Russel Farmer, a consultant with 10 years experience in standard conduct and practices of councils and councilors/aldermen. Approximately 40 people attended the workshop; some were councilors or aldermen, some were hopefuls and some were on-lookers.
On Monday, October 18, 2010 seven people were all smiles. And justifiably so. They were just provided a stamp of approval by the voters and acknowledged as the newly elected officials of the Council of the City of Wetaskiwin. Mayor Bill Elliot and Aldermen Patricia MacQuarrie, Mark McFaul, Glenn Ruecker, Joe Branco, Dale Crabtree and Barry Hawkes were granted 3 years of opportunity to ‘shape’ the future of Wetaskiwin. On October 21st, 2013 voters will, once again, be provided the opportunity to select a new Council to guide the operation of the City for the next 4 years, or until October, 2017.
Prior to the 2010 election, Russel Farmer, a consultant hired by the City and County of Wetaskiwin was in Wetaskiwin to clearly inform municipal candidates what is “standard conduct and practices” and how they are expected to conduct themselves when elected to Council. He was back again at later dates providing refresher courses about the roles and responsibilities and specifically state what the acceptable role of an alderman was.
It’s quite simple. An alderman’s job is to work with other council members to set the overall direction of the municipality. Councils (Mayor and 6 aldermen) set policies (the rules that determine how things will get done) for administration (CAO Ted Gillespie and crew) to follow when running the municipality. Aldermen are not involved in day-to-day operational decisions. They are however, responsible for reviewing existing policies to ensure they are current and working, and creating new policies to ensure the City is providing programs and services that meet the needs of the community.
“It’s much like an hour glass,” explained Farmer who was adamant that for a municipality to be effective, under no circumstances will elected officials attempt to directly manage the roles and responsibilities of City staff. City Council only has one employee, the CAO. “Council is the top of the hourglass and administration is the bottom of the hourglass. In between at the narrow part is the CAO (Ted Gillespie in the City of Wetaskiwin) who is responsible for ensuring the policies, vision and strategic plan created by Council is carried out by administration. I will go so far as to say Council (aldermen) doesn’t engage with staff,” stated Farmer. So what that means in a nutshell is, the Council sets direction and budget, and then the CAO manages staff and budgets to ensure the effective management of the financial, and all other affairs of the municipality.
Farmer explained that if individual Aldermen want something done, they must convince Council that it is necessary and a vote by the collective body (Council) will determine if it will be done. He also stated that prior to voting on an issue, it is the responsibility of Aldermen to get information that will enable them to make an informed decision. Once a vote has been passed it is considered as unanimous and must be supported by all Aldermen.
Roles of Mayor
• “The Mayor in addition to performing duties as an Alderman must preside when attending a council meeting. The Mayor is also generally the main spokesperson for the municipality. The Mayor is also responsible for seeking consensus among members of council, advises council, liaises with other levels of government, and provides advice with regard to policy development.
Under the Municipal Government Act Aldermen have the following duties:
• To consider the welfare and interests of the municipality as a whole and, to bring to council's attention anything that would promote the welfare or interests of the municipality
• To participate generally in developing and evaluating the policies and programs of the municipality
• To participate in council meetings and council committee meetings and meetings of other bodies to which they are appointed by the council
• To obtain information about the operation or administration of the municipality from the chief administrative officer
• To keep in confidence matters discussed in private at a council committee meeting until discussed at a meeting held in public
• To perform any other duty or function imposed on councilors by this or any other enactment or by the council.
The Entire Municipality
An alderman is elected to look after the interests of the entire municipality. As tough as it may be at times, the alderman must base any decision on what is best for the entire municipality. Council's effectiveness depends on that. Aldermen also have to make certain that they do not put themselves in a conflict of interest situation. They must ensure that decisions made do not benefit them, their immediate family, or their friends.
Chief Administrative Officer (CAO)
Every council must establish, by bylaw, a position of CAO. The CAO is the administrative head of the municipality. The CAO's responsibilities include ensuring that the municipality's policies and programs are implemented, advising and informing the council on the operation of the municipality, performing other duties assigned by the council, and ensuring appropriate staffing is in place.
Staying out of the day-to-day operation of the municipality allows aldermen to concentrate on policy making and program monitoring. Aldermen must work with the CAO to keep informed on what the municipality is doing and will depend on the CAO to provide information so that they can make sound decisions.
A performance appraisal system for the CAO is a key building block for a lasting and positive relationship between council and the CAO. Section 205.1 of the Municipal Government Act states that a council must provide the CAO with an annual written performance evaluation.
Voters will choose the new direction for Wetaskiwin on October 21st. Voters won’t get another chance to personally and directly influence the direction for Wetaskiwin for another 4 years, or October 2017. Voters must judiciously select the best candidates based on the ones that are best suited to undertake the roles and responsibilities outlined in this article. And, it’s not, “I am going to ….” but “This is how as a Council we are going to….”.
I believe that in this election some of results will be won by narrow margins. The best candidates deserve your vote.