Who serves on city council and how did they get there. You could be there – think about it.

December 28, 2013

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON.  The holiday Season is often used as a time of year to look both back at what you managed to get done and forward to think about what you would like to get done.

Family, finances, career and whatever you have in your bucket list that gets at least some thought and attention.

Think career for a bit – how is yours going?  Promotion perhaps?  What about a total career change?

Some of these Council members may not get re-elected. Two already have candidates who have announced they will run against sitting members. Of the seven there is just the one that is rock solid; all the others could be beaten if the right candidate came along.

Does public service have any interest for you?  Do you see yourself sitting as a member of city council?  Think about it.  Many people work for corporations that are civic-minded enough to see a person leave the company for an extended period of time and serve the community and the return eight years later in a new capacity.

The larger corporations like the idea of having someone return with a deep understanding as to how local government works.  Well just what is local government and what role does a council member play.

Lots of reading is something you would be doing a lot of – and the opportunity to think through real problems that need solutions.  Local government needs people with some business experience and a capacity to see the larger picture.  Burlington currently has a very significant infrastructure deficit – there are miles of roads that are going to have to be re-built in the not too distant future and we don’t have the money to pay for that work right now.

If your current background is in marketing – see the city’s problem as refurbishing an existing product that is essential but has a tired worn out look.  How do you convince your customer base to go along with a price increase?

We took this …

… and replaced it with this. Was this good planning?

Burlington has to grow its population.  It may not be something many people in the city want to see happen – but the province has ruled that our population is to increase.  Developers see those decisions as an opportunity to buy up older properties that have a single small bungalow on a large piece of land and assemble them into a single property on which they will build housing that will be home for a larger number of people.

This is what city building is all about. Seven young Burlingtonians made plaster impressions of their hand prints which were then engraved on the marker that tells the story of the pier and its construction. Despite its construction woes and legal problems the pier is a magnificent addition to the city.

When this kind of development takes place the decisions a city council makes results in a different look to the city; more congestion if you will.  What a council is really doing is “city building” – which when you think about it is pretty exciting stuff.

The planning department works with the developers to come up with the best design and use of land but the final decision is made by city council.  You are in that seat making decisions on the kind of city that your children and their children will eventually live in.  You are making decisions on where your parents will live when they decide to move out of that big house they no longer need and can’t handle into something that is smaller and more manageable.

If you check the city skyline you will see those tall construction cranes at construction sites – many of which are locations for new retirement homes.  They aren’t what they used to be.  The baby boomers are approaching retirement and they are going to do that part of their life differently – and why not, they did everything else differently.  In Burlington, your city council is wrestling with a couple of retirement residences that make a lot of sense when you look at them carefully – but they represent change which isn’t something we human being handle all that well.

The managing of differences is a large part of being a council member.  Politics is all about finding a balance between the various interests and having the strength of character to listen, discern and make decisions that benefit the community at large.  Read up on the differences between various groups who live along Lakeshore Road and don’t want their road clogged up with runners for half a day once a year.  The city loves the 4000 plus people who come to the city for that day and spend major dollars.  Is it too much to ask a group of residents to give a bit so a major event can take place?  Some certainly think so.  What would you do were you a council member and had that one dropped into your lap?

It was the biggest event of the year for the city. The Pier finally opened. Most people love the place – but there are still some legal problems. Is the Pier likely to become an election issue?

The city is involved in some extensive costly litigation related to the pier.  Would you want the public to know how much is being spent on legal fees?  Two of the seven members of this current council have come out publicly for telling the public – the others want to wait until the various court cases are over.  What would you do?  These are not minor matters.  As media people we believe that an informed public can make informed decisions.  We also believe that it is vital for the democratic process we use to choose our leaders be one that consistently brings in new people.  We have two council members who have been in place for more than 20 years each.  Of the seven in place now three were newly elected last election.  Some people are cut out for public service others are not.  Fortunately the public gets to decide on who should stay and who should not be returned.

It’s pretty tough stuff at times – but it is what makes the city you have chosen to live in work the way it works.  Poorly run cities depress the value of property and they become places people choose not to live in.

Becoming a Council member means you face a pretty steep learning curve.  You are not just a member of city council but you are also a member of the Regional Council.  You will work some nights.  Better like people.

The money isn’t bad – you will earn something a little over $100,000 and have an assistant to help you do the job.  You will have a territory – see it as a sales territory with a quota – you want to keep at least 50% of the customers happy so you can be returned to office.  Promise the community you will serve two terms – no more –  then stick to the promise.

Is it something you would like to do?  Log into the city’s web site, rummage through the various documents and go through the Burlington Gazette archives.  The council you will read about needs some new blood and there is nothing more satisfying than truly serving your community.

Thicken up your hide – no room for the thin-skinned in this game.  If you want better local government – be part of it.  And if you decide to file nomination papers – let us know right away – we want to tell your story.


No place for the thin skinned.

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