Council hopefuls attend municipal election candidate workshop

 

Municipal lawyer and coach Fred Dean speaks to council candidates from around Essex County and those thinking of running during a recent workshop at the Essex Civic Centre's county council chambers.

Municipal lawyer and coach Fred Dean speaks to council candidates from around Essex County and those thinking of running during a recent workshop at the Essex Civic Centre’s county council chambers.

By Ron Giofu

 

First-time candidates, those still thinking about running and incumbents were wished well by a former municipal lawyer and coach recently, but council hopefuls were also given a rundown that the job is more than it might seem to some.

Fred Dean, a municipal lawyer who served as Sudbury’s city solicitor for 23 years, met with council hopefuls from across Essex County last week at the Essex Civic Centre. His talk outlined what they can expect, if elected, and some of the obligations they would have as council members.

The event was sponsored by the County of Essex.

“Let me congratulate you for even considering running,” he told the roughly 50 people in attendance.

Dean said municipal powers are not based on size and that powers are executed not by one or two people, but shall be exercised by the entire elected body.

“Powers are not executed by the mayor, a councillor or the CAO. It is authorized by council,” he said.

A municipal council is there to exercise corporate powers, he said, and is supposed to act “collectively, publicly and with advanced notice.” He added there are “limited individual powers” and that no management functions should be carried out by the mayor or any individual council member.

“It is inappropriate for any council member to micromanage,” said Dean. “Your job as a council is to make decisions and set policy.”

If a council or council member tries to micromanage, it could lead to that municipality being in “serious trouble,” he added.

Dean also outlined issues such as accountable and transparent government, including stating council has a “limited ability” to hold closed meetings.

“Closed meetings get used in some municipalities more than others,” he said. “They have to be used appropriately.”

Elected officials often see their lives change, he stated, including being seen in a different light.

“You will have a whole new group of people wanting to bend your ear,” said Dean. “People will talk to you in a different way.”
Dean said that “you better start to be careful of what you say to people” and cautioned the council hopefuls that they would start receiving phone calls “at very peculiar hours.”

Going to meetings is a regular occurrence for council members, Dean added, and that it pays to be effective in them.

“You better like meetings,” he said. “You are going to be in a lot of them. You better get good at it.”

While attendance is important, Dean further stated that council members have to read every report and piece of correspondence on their meeting agendas.

“You are going to have to love reading,” said Dean. “You are going to get a lot of paper. You have an obligation to read it all.”

Dean also recommended people not run for council on the basis of one issue.

“Give your head a shake,” said Dean. “You are not going to do well at all.”

Municipal council members also have responsibilities under the Safe Water Drinking Act. He recommended taking a course in Walkerton as council members should be trained on the matter due to the personal liability involved.

Dean also advised council hopefuls on the municipal conflict of interest act, noting that those in conflict on an issue have to declare it, state why they are in conflict, and not vote, discuss or influence others on the matter. Staff could give general information, he said, but council members who still aren’t sure whether they are in conflict or not may have to seek independent legal advice.

Having a good relationship with administration is also important, he said, as staff is one of the best places to get information.

“You need to get good advice,” said Dean. “The best place to get advice is your staff.”

Committees are another good place to get information, he added, but those committees have to give good feedback to council. He also recommended council members to have Google Alerts and follow 15-20 subject matters so that the council member remains informed of all issues.

Seeing a position as an elected official is not just a decision for the person whose name is on the ballot, he continued.

“Running for council is not an individual decision. It’s a family decision,” said Dean.

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