1008 - It's not easy sorting the candidates running in the Municipal Election. The range of personal styles and values, their various platform planks, and sheer number can make the process feel daunting and the results feel tentative and uncertain.
In an earlier column, I noted factors that help identify the better candidates. Another crucial variable, to which I've only previously alluded, deserves to be expanded. It's the evaluation of whether a particular candidate is better suited for committee
work than to sit on council.
Councillors need a broad focus covering a multitude of issues and parallel broad experience at doing many tasks - or at least show the willingness to develop them. A narrow focus or range of experience may indicate
a candidate is better sitting on one or more committees.
Committees have narrow focuses and only make recommendations, not ultimate decisions. They can benefit from having members with specialized knowledge and expertise. When committee recommendations
are brought to council, that group's broader view comes into play.
However, even if a particular candidate has a broad focus and comes with parallel experience, it doesn't mean she/he is suitable for council. In addition to breadth of focus, good councillors
need a full package of other attributes. The best prospects for a municipal council have strength in all the following crucial traits - in addition to past experience. Those more suited for committees demonstrate fewer of these attributes,
or the full basket of traits is less pronounced.
Independence: strength of character and ability to think independently on issues. A good council candidate doesn't automatically latch onto the issue of the day nor parrot the received view of it.
Leadership: can tease out the key aspects of an issue and making them salient to council and the community at large. Acts as an opinion leader not a mere follower of others.
Team player: understanding that working together has more influence
on important decisions and achieving personal priorities than going it alone. No one candidate has all the answers.
Commitment: recognizes the time needed to do the job and is committed to invest it. Good councillors come to meetings prepared
and on time. The best prospects do the same.
Management: can manage a complex organization; set a strategy and carry it out (both short and long-term), think critically; anticipate and prevent problems; seek the expertise of others; develop a
solid, over-reaching vision for the city, and carry out its actualization.
Effectiveness: has the ability to actualize and deliver key initiatives; develops solutions with clear lists of action items and timelines, not merely statements of intentions.
Fiscal competence: knowledge of finances, can set priorities, read a balance sheet, understand and ensure a comprehensive budget, and monitor fiscal progress and status throughout the year. A competent councillor knows how every line item fits into the
whole of city finances.
Focus and Perspective: recognition that diverse views and voices represent the entire community; includes voices who think differently to ensure meeting the needs of all.
Communication: is articulate, intelligent, and
represents you as you want to be seen on the provincial, federal, and global stages; understands successful communication depends on the audience viewing the speaker as credible and takes the necessary steps to foster that view.
The presence or
absence of this full package of traits can indicate the suitability of candidates for council or committees. Deciding someone is more suitable for the latter does not diminish the value of their contribution. The work of municipal committees is vital for well-run
cities. Committees rely on the expertise and experience of members. Designating some candidates as best suited for committees means we retain their valuable input and participation.
The converse is also true. Incorrect assumptions of candidate
abilities for council too easily result in problems. For four years we have seen the Peter Principle in action in Nanaimo City Hall. Our elevating those who were unqualified to the level of their incompetence in the last election has cost Nanaimo dearly.
Now, a number of candidates who are running appear best suited for committee work, not council. Elevating them to council could cost voters just as much.
Since those running for council appear disinclined to sort themselves, it is up to voters
to do it for them. Voters are the managers of city council and, consequently, the ultimate city managers. But we only get to manage once every four years, so it's imperative we do our job responsibly.
Watch out for candidates who come late or
unprepared to meetings. If this is how they perform when they want us to give them a job, imagine what they'll do once they're hired.
Picture the candidate on the national news looking exactly the way they show up. Are they presentable? Articulate?
Talk to them. Are they good listeners or only repeat their own agenda?
Be careful of candidates who speak continually about one issue. Regardless of its importance, it may indicate the narrowness of their horizons. A narrow focus may make
them useful on a specialized committee, but a poor prospect for our city council.
Beware of those who trot out extensive committee experience as the main argument for their election. Their CV may only demonstrate that committees are where they need
to be. Extensive committee work, alone, is not an indicator of their ability to step up.
In the end, our councillors, not committee members, are the ones directly accountable to voters. We need the best candidates for council to steer City Hall
on our behalf throughout the coming term. If we again elevate those unsuitable for that position, we will continue to pay the price we have paid and are still paying for our poor choices in 2014.
I'll post my final picks during election