Municipal convention helps new council members with learning curve
Town leaders update knowledge and network at annual event
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