As I settle back into life in BC, I have begun to immerse myself into local municipal politics. As well, I am realizing that there is a big difference in municipal services from one municipality to another. I didn’t realize how good we had it in Alberta! Sigh.
In British Columbia, the last local government elections were in October 2022. Councils and School Boards have had three months of wading through agenda packages, complaints from citizens, COW (Committee of the Whole) meetings and ribbon cuttings (not to mention learning Robert’s Rules of Order). I wonder if the job really is what many thought it would be. Having been there as a local elected official myself, it’s harder than it looks.
One thing for sure, is that no matter where you live in the province or country, there is always an issue that becomes the Elephant in your Room. You know… that issue that is very uncomfortable to tackle. For every Council and School Board there are usually a couple of those items top of mind. It can be an issue brought by an individual councillor/school board member or it’s a festering concern in the community. Can you remember the single issue candidate that ran in your local election? That individual is bound and determined to bring their special interest into the realm of public debate at any cost. This can have damaging results.
There are myriad issues that could be your Elephant, …. climate change, firing the CAO, paring down the staff numbers, service levels, equity, diversity, and inclusion, crumbling infrastructure, difficult regional relationships, poor financial stewardship. Maybe it’s a difficult and contrary Councillor who is constantly in breach of the code of ethics/conduct (but who gets away with it) and who gets more time in the news than they should. That Councillor will always say the sky is red even though it’s blue, arguing – not debating. A situation that can be a real poison for your term ahead.
The Elephant in the Room takes time away from getting the job done. Let’s take the City of Surrey for example. The recent Elephant in their room is the police service -they either move to their own police service (SPS) or stay with the RCMP. This is a big Elephant because policing is an essential service! By not addressing this head-on and quickly, the result is angst, confusion, mistrust, and worry. Worry not just for the police services and members affected, but by Surrey residents themselves. I saw on Global news the other night the Chief of Police say, throwing his hands up in the air …. Please make a decision… just govern!
So how do you deal with the Elephant in your Room? After three months, Councils and School Boards have had time to be together, they know who and what the barriers are to getting their work done. They also know that if they don’t focus early on, the term will be chaotic and unresponsive to the needs of the community.
This is why strategic planning early in a council’s term is so vital. Whether facilitated in-house or through an external consultant, the process of strategically planning forces Councils/Boards to focus on the Elephant in their Room – these are the uncomfortable but important conversations to be had. Whether your Elephant is a lack of governance practices, individual councillors/school board members, crumbling infrastructure, organizational weakness, financial and economic stewardship, or police services, it needs to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Coming together as a team, with your elected officials and your administration will hopefully set your Elephant free. It will never be perfect, but your team will have a greater understanding of each other, a more diverse perspective, a more respectful dialogue and will have a better chance of accomplishing your goals. Ultimately, the focus moves to community priorities, working together and learning to manage the big hairy audacious matters that come your way – you know who I mean…..the Elephant.
Our team is standing by to help with you're elephant situation!
At Strategic Steps, we have a keen interest in local governance done well, with role clarity and clear expectations for both elected officials and administrators. I would be happy to share what I’ve learned with you. You can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org