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Tools for a successful municipal term

As we say goodbye to summer and let the beautiful autumn season descend upon us, we think about getting back into a routine, accomplishing some personal and professional goals, and looking at how we want to organize ourselves over the next few months and perhaps the year. What do we really want to accomplish this year? How can we set ourselves up for success?


The same goes for municipal councils. A council is usually elected to a four-year term, and there are goals and priorities to think about throughout the term. The first year is about learning the ropes, understanding the process, and getting to the heart of community issues. Halfway through the first year, councils should begin planning for the rest of their term based on the needs of their community. This planning is what begins to set municipalities up for success.


Your council may be coming into a new term or winding down, depending on where you live. There are some nuances within these dates, but generally, here's how it looks across Canada:


No matter where you are in the election cycle, they can move mountains if your council has the right tools and feels informed and supported. Governance areas of focus include:

  • council orientation and onboarding

  • strategic planning

  • role responsibility

  • budget process and tax implications

  • governance vs Administration

  • council self-evaluation

  • professional development and training

  • advocacy issues and approaches

  • bylaws and policy currency

  • regional collaboration

  • community satisfaction

  • community engagement.


This list is not exhaustive, but the point is that it takes hard work and focus to work as a municipal governing body. Governance is complex and takes years of intentionality and practice to master – and sometimes, it is never mastered. Let's not forget personal skills such as listening and debating, being prepared and informed, asking questions, debating issues, not people, and diplomacy. Councillors are people, too and need to rely on close friends, family, and mentors throughout their term. Providing support will go a long way.


Councillors are supported by their Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), and councils will have a tough time governing well without a good CAO. To that end, understanding and supporting an administrator's scope is just as important.


For the Administration, these key factors may include:

  • positive working relationship with council

  • org-structure considerations

  • corporate values

  • service levels to the community

  • budgeting based on council priorities

  • staff satisfaction

  • staff recruitment and retention

  • current environmental/economic viability

  • advice to council

  • external partnerships and relationships

  • achieving goals within the council's strategic plan

  • and anything else that council can throw at a CAO, which, by the way, is A LOT!


The most successful municipalities are those whose council and Administration work well together. As a ratepayer and community member, you want to know that your council has the tools to get the job done and are supported by their Administration. It is a juggling act at best, but with the right tools in place for council and Administration, you should feel hope that your community is moving along no matter where you are in the election cycle.


If council starts off on the right foot, has mid-term check-ins on strategic priorities, understands procedures and protocols, is well-informed, and can work together, they can achieve what they collectively set out to do. Municipalities can't be everything to everyone, but every four years, there is a re-set with new hope and energy for even more improvement.


At election time, ask yourself, is your municipality set up for four years of success?


At Strategic Steps, we have a keen interest in local governance done well. I would be happy to share what I’ve learned with you. You can reach me at jacquie@strategicsteps.ca




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