John and Beth Hildebrandt
Ontario’s municipal elections will be held on October 22. Two things are essential to our democratic system at this time:
- that taxpayers (voters) prepare themselves by critically assessing the issues and the candidates, and
- that other taxpayers – those with the desire to serve their neighbours and the vision and will to create a vibrant, economically sound and culturally-rich community — step forward as candidates to run for the positions of mayor and councillor.
As the election approaches, I want to share my thoughts with potential candidates. These comments are my honest and experience-based opinions on what I think it takes to get the job done. And not just done, but done well.
Meet Your Constituents
Some folks might consider campaigning unpleasant, but it must be done. Constituents will not support a candidate who fails to make the effort to meet with them personally at their home. When you canvass door-to-door, you will get a good idea of what constituents think is important. Around here, taxation is always the most important issue followed by access to a doctor and medical facilities. You might think what you hear is a lot of negativity and what’s wrong with the world, but they are telling you what is important to them and how they think things can be improved in their community. You are running for the constituents, not for yourself. Listen to them and respect them.
A councillor or mayor’s training really takes place on the job. It takes at least one year before you are familiar enough to know what is going on and only then can you make a positive contribution. You should not take on the Mayor’s job unless you have been on Council for at least one term. There are also workshops and conferences put on by the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO) and other groups that can help prepare you. These emphasize the expectations, responsibilities and limitations that your new role will place upon your shoulders.
Life experience and positive attributes
All candidates are confident that their life experiences, aptitudes and skills have prepared them to take on a leadership role, to represent their fellow-citizens and to contribute to their community. The most important attributes they should possess are sincerity, honesty and an ability to listen – to their constituents, municipal staff and fellow members of Council. An elected representative’s word should be his or her bond.
There are five members on our municipal Council and there is the possibility that on any issue there may be five different opinions – not to mention the opinions of the public. The Mayor, who is the Head of Council, working together with the CEO and staff, should have the ability to consider the input from Council members, staff and the public to discuss issues in a civilized manner and come to common- sense solutions.
The following need not apply
Public service is not the right career for egotists. An undesirable personality trait that individuals bring to the Council table is egotism. Inflated egos have a very negative effect on the dynamics of council and can have adverse impacts on decisions.
Likewise, the know-it-alls who claim expertise on subjects that they actually know very little about and who hope to get recognized in a press article to impress the taxpayers, should do everyone a favour and not seek public office.
There is no place for bullies at any level of government. Individuals who engage in name-calling, in-fighting, insults and defamation of others are the least suited of all to public service. This type of behaviour does not contribute to the community in a positive way and, when damage is done, it is hard to overcome. All citizens must be welcomed, appreciated and respected.
Let municipal staff do its work
Members of Council, including the Mayor, should not be involved directly with staff. This is the responsibility of the CEO, who, under the direction of Council, meets with the management and staff of various departments to discuss and attempt to resolve situations arising within the daily operations of the municipality. It is only common sense that staff should not have to deal with five bosses and their opinions. At all times, staff should be treated with dignity and the respect they deserve. Above all, staff should not be criticized publicly.
Staff should meet with the CEO and the Mayor from time to time and be permitted to voice opinions and offer suggestions (without any fear of reprisal). Staff members are on the front lines and often have a better understanding of what the taxpayers and their concerns than the members of council.
If members of Council keep the interests of the people they are elected to represent foremost in their minds and if they are open to discussing issues that need to be resolved in an honest, sincere and civilized manner, the results will be positive. If disagreement and discussion turns into an “us” versus “them” situation, rather than a “we” situation, there is no hope for a common sense resolution and Council will make bad decisions for the wrong reasons and become totally ineffective. This, of course, creates a very unhealthy or toxic atmosphere.
I encourage you to run
I have absolutely no regrets about the thirteen years I spent serving my community as a member of municipal council. First, I was a councillor for the Townships of Sherwood, Jones and Burns. Then, I was a councillor for the newly-amalgamated Township of Madawaska Valley. Finally, I served the people of the Township of Madawaska Valley as their mayor for seven years.
I have many fond memories of my time serving as councillor and mayor. I was fortunate to have the privilege of working with wise and dedicated people. They made the job easy and for that I am grateful. When all is said and done, I sincerely hope that I made some positive contribution to the community and the lives of the people I served.
The future of our beloved Madawaska Valley
I hope that there are some individuals reading this who are considering running for the positions of mayor and councillor. Our community needs leaders with life experience, collaborative skills, common sense, an appreciation for the diverse groups within our township and a vision for the future of our beloved Madawaska Valley. Step up and help us all step forward. You won’t regret it.
About the author: John Hildebrandt, a fifth generation Valley resident, started Madawaska Doors with his father – a secondary manufacturing industry adding value to the traditional timber trade and marketing Valley products internationally. He served as an elected municipal official for 13 years through amalgamation, first as Reeve and then as Mayor of the newly-formed Madawaska Valley. He is particularly proud of his work in beginning the physician recruitment program with five neighbouring municipalities (still functioning today) as well as his role in Zurakowski Park. Although retired, he is actively involved in community issues such as hydro costs and access to medical services.
Editor’s Note: This article has been updated June 24 to include the final two sections which were inadvertently omitted in the first version published on June 23. The Current apologizes for this omission.