What I Did During My Summer
Updated: May 29
We’re about to embark on the fourth summer for any municipal council members elected in 2017 in Alberta, Quebec, Newfoundland and Labrador, Yukon, and some of the other outliers with a similar electoral schedule. The number of years through the term will differ for those of you in other jurisdictions, and of course for municipal managers, this is a summer just like any other – if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic that is.
For almost all local governments, the summer is a quieter time as you prepare for a new year arriving at the beginning of school in September. I’m not sure why the municipal busyness cycle seems to mirror the school busyness cycle, but it does. For municipal administrators, and those of us in the advisory and consulting business, summer can be a busy time, as we get projects finished and reports completed and ready for elected officials who get back to business in earnest in September.
With the fiscal year beginning a few months after summer in most places, that means fall is budget time. In an ideal world, the budget is just the output that results in a thorough analysis of the priorities assigned to programs and services. In a Priority-Based Budgeting system of the sort fleshed out by ResourceX, the actual creation of the budget by administration and consideration of the budget by Council is the end of an effort that has been underway for months. Putting scarce resources to work on the highest priorities for Council seems like a no-brainer and putting some rigour behind that process just makes sense.
This post is actually not intended to talk about PBB, but about how elected officials can make good use of their summers. During the course of the typical council calendar, the days are chock full of meetings, events, conferences, and consultations throughout the year, but there is often a hiatus through July and August as things slow down around the town office and constituents head for the lake, the cabin, the cottage, the mountains, or the coast – or at least as far as they’re allowed to go under COVID-19 restrictions.
The council member who wants to hone their craft, to follow the Olympic motto and become Citius, Altius, Fortius, can pass some of the summer reflecting, learning, and considering what’s next for the local government.
There are lots of courses offered through provincial and territorial municipal associations. Lots of post-secondary institutions co-host programs on a variety of topics, and there is no end of reading to be done. Some really good sources include the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, and Municipal World, just to name a couple.
Some councils will bring in experts in various topics like parliamentary procedure, municipal law, or good governance to spend some time with council, either solo or as part of a regional effort. For those provinces who are halfway through their terms, now would be an excellent time to consider an orientation refresher, because who among us can remember what they learned on day 10 of their ascendence to the august office of a local elected official?
Learning is critical to effective public service. Elected officials take an oath to serve their communities, and that doesn’t take a break following Canada Day.
As always, I’m interested in your thoughts about this topic. What does your council or region do to keep on learning through the summer? What are you doing as an individual to build your own expertise and capacity so you can continue to serve in the most effective way possible?
You can find me at firstname.lastname@example.org. The company’s Twitter profile is @strategic_steps.