Mu­nic­i­pal con­ven­tion helps new coun­cil mem­bers with learn­ing curve

Town lead­ers up­date knowl­edge and net­work at an­nual event

The Beacon (Gander) - - News - BY CORY HUR­LEY

There has been buzz around the prov­ince about the ex­tra­or­di­nary num­ber of new coun­cil mem­bers on board since Septem­ber’s mu­nic­i­pal elec­tion.

Craig Pol­lett, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties New­found­land and Labrador (MNL), says a lot of long-time mu­nic­i­pal coun­cil mem­bers de­cided it was time to re­tire from pol­i­tics. That made the tran­si­tion to new blood even more no­tice­able.

As MNL held its an­nual gen­eral meet­ing in Cor­ner Brook last week, there was no bet­ter op­por­tu­nity to ed­u­cate new coun­cil­lors on what is re­quired of them and what they can ex­pect over the next four years.

Day 1 of the con­fer­ence on Thurs­day, Nov. 2 kicked off bright and early with a ses­sion for new coun­cil­lors and first­time del­e­gates, in­clud­ing an overview of MNL and mu­nic­i­pal leg­is­la­tion, and golden rules for coun­cil­lors.

New coun­cil mem­bers were asked what they hoped to take away from the con­fer­ence.

Percy Far­well, Gan­der

Not all fresh blood on coun­cil is to­tally new to mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics. Gan­der’s new mayor, Percy Far­well, is re­turn­ing to pol­i­tics af­ter 12 years away from it.

The mayor said many as­pects of mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics are the same in terms of struc­ture, pol­icy and pro­ce­dures. He has a lot of knowl­edge and ex­pe­ri­ence from his pre­vi­ous 12 years on coun­cil in Gan­der, but says there is still a lot to learn — al­beit to a lesser ex­tent than most new coun­cil mem­bers.

“It is still get­ting reac­quainted with the is­sues be­ing dealt with at the mu­nic­i­pal level and some of the broader is­sues mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties are fac­ing, com­pared to what they were fac­ing 12-plus years ago,” he said.

Far­well said MNL’s an­nual gen­eral meet­ing was a great op­por­tu­nity to do that, and to meet or get reac­quainted with peo­ple across the prov­ince.

The mayor said he hasn’t seen much dif­fer­ence in how towns op­er­ate or how coun­cils per­form their du­ties since his pre­vi­ous ten­ure. There is a ma­jor fo­cus on trans­parency and fol­low­ing proper pro­ce­dures, but he said that has al­ways ex­isted.

“It’s not a mat­ter of the elected gov­ern­ment is try­ing to keep in­for­ma­tion from you or try­ing to avoid you be­com­ing aware of what is go­ing on,” he said. “It is just that we don’t seem to get it right in terms of that con­nec­tiv­ity and en­gage­ment with the com­mu­nity.”

That is a pri­or­ity for Gan­der coun­cil, ac­cord­ing to Far­well.

Peter An­drews, Spring­dale

Peter An­drews of Spring­dale ac­knowl­edged mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics is a whole new ex­pe­ri­ence for him.

“I have a lot to learn,” he said. The role the pro­vin­cial gov­ern­ment plays in mu­nic­i­pal gov­er­nance and op­er­a­tions are ar­eas he said he was fo­cus­ing on dur­ing the con­fer­ence.

“We just have to take this one step at a time as new coun­cil­lors, and we will learn ev­ery­day as we go,” An­drews said. “Poli­cies and pro­ce­dures – every­thing is not all as cut and dry as many peo­ple might think. They are a lot of av­enues that have to be taken care of to make sure every­thing is done prop­erly.”

Fol­low­ing pro­ce­dure as he rep­re­sents and helps lead the Town of Spring­dale over the next four years is im­por­tant to the new coun­cil­lor. The key is to make sure things are done in the best in­ter­ests of ev­ery­body, in­clud­ing the town, he said.

An­drews said he is also lean­ing on re­turn­ing mem­bers of Spring­dale coun­cil for knowl­edge and guid­ance as he learns the ropes.

“It is a good thing that we have four new coun­cil­lors with new voices and opin­ions,” he said. “You don’t want to be swayed by the coun­cil­lors who have al­ready been there, but they are also a vat of knowl­edge for us to draw from.”

Mark Whiffen, Grand Falls-Wind­sor

Mark Whiffen of Grand Falls-Wind­sor said the con­fer­ence was a net­work­ing event for him to meet other coun­cil­lors across the prov­ince. He feels it was im­por­tant to see what other coun­cils are do­ing in their mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties, and to share what is hap­pen­ing in his town.

“It is about shar­ing best prac­tices and see­ing how we can im­prove our op­er­a­tions and how we run our towns,” he said.

The var­i­ous ses­sions come with a lot of in­for­ma­tion to take in, so Whiffen was try­ing to take a lit­tle bit away from each one.

“This is my first time in mu­nic­i­pal pol­i­tics, so there’s that lit­tle learn­ing curve about your role and re­spon­si­bil­ity as a coun­cil­lor — over­see­ing the staff and things like that,” he said. “It is learn­ing, at the end of the day, but it is net­work­ing and shar­ing ideas.”

Since the Septem­ber elec­tion, Whiffen said new mem­bers of coun­cil have been spend­ing time learn­ing about mu­nic­i­pal gov­er­nance, catch­ing up on what is hap­pen­ing in the town, and get­ting to the point where new ideas can be pre­sented.

The bud­getary process is upon coun­cils now, so it is not an easy tran­si­tion for new coun­cil­lors, he said.

“You kind of got to jump in and get aware – you are go­ing in head first to fig­ure things out,” he said. “We got elected on ideas in our cam­paign, and we want those ideas to hap­pen right away. So, it is a mat­ter now of find­ing out where we in­put those ideas into the process.”

Rod Ben­nett, Grand Falls-Wind­sor

Rod Ben­nett of Grand Falls-Wind­sor said he was seek­ing knowl­edge to bring back to his com­mu­nity and help his goal to be a leader over the next four years. Net­work­ing with other coun­cil­lors is a big part of that, he said.

In Grand Falls-Wind­sor, there are some re­turn­ing mem­bers of coun­cil, so new mem­bers have been ben­e­fit­ing from the ex­per­tise and ex­pe­ri­ence that al­ready ex­ists.

“In my cam­paign, I said I wanted Grand Falls-Wind­sor to be the Jone­ses, not to keep up with the Jone­ses,” he said. “Learn­ing what other com­mu­ni­ties have, I would like to have it all.”

Ben­nett says he has the time to in­vest in coun­cil. He wants to be a per­son­able coun­cil­lor who meets with the peo­ple of Grand Falls-Wind­sor when they have is­sues or ideas to dis­cuss.

“I knew what I was get­ting into,” he said. “I knew it was go­ing to be a lot of work.”

Fol­low­ing poli­cies and pro­ce­dures is a learn­ing curve, he ac­knowl­edged. It is not some­thing the reg­u­lar ci­ti­zen is al­ways aware of.

“We are only a lit­tle over a month in,” he said. “It is go­ing to take some time to get into the swing of things. I am putting as much ef­fort as I can to­wards it, learn­ing it, and here at the con­ven­tion it has been ab­so­lutely won­der­ful.”


Mark Whiffen, Grand Falls-Wind­sor coun­cil­lor


Peter An­drews, Spring­dale coun­cil­lor


Percy Far­well, mayor of Gan­der.


Rod Ben­nett, Grand Falls-Wind­sor coun­cil­lor

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