Being on council not an easy job
The Town of Fort Frances is seeking applicants from which to appoint a new councillor—a position that requires commitment but is rewarding in its own right.
Couns. Andrew Hallikas, Rick Wiedenhoeft, and John Albanese recently offered some insight as to some qualities that make a good candidate and what such a candidate can expect from the job.
“It would be nice if they had some experience with committee work and chairing a meeting,” he added.
“For sure, we want people who are decisive and community-oriented.
“We also need someone who plays well with others—in other words, they can get along with a group, work as a group, are willing to compromise, seek consensus, that kind of thing,” noted Coun. Hallikas.
“Right now, we are really missing [the late] Sharon [Tibbs], but we have a really, in my opinion, good council who work well together,” he remarked.
“We’ve been working together for six years, and we really want to look for that extraordinary person who can jump in, get their feet wet, get up to speed, and get on with it.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft, who was first elected in 2003, said the role bears a lot of responsibility but also gives one a sense of accomplishment.
“You’re making tough decisions all the time, and if you don’t make those tough decisions, things are going to fall apart worse than they do,” he reasoned.
“So you do contribute to the town in that way.
“It’s a way of setting direction for the town, so there’s a sense of accomplishment there, too,” Coun. Wiedenhoeft added.
“It’s a lot of work, but [you] get a lot of satisfaction out of things that you see and do in the town.”
Coun. Albanese, who first served on council from 1985-1991 and more recently since 2005, said the job takes commitment and you must put aside any personal agenda.
“You have to be dedicated to the taxpayers, number one. You have to listen to them,” he stressed.
“You make decisions based on your knowledge of what’s going on, but you have to be a good listener.
“You work with the rest of the people on council,” Coun. Albanese added. “If someone said to me, ‘John, I want you to build a new bridge,’ I cannot go to council and say, ‘I want to build a new bridge in Fort Frances.’
“You have to work with the other six people on council,” he noted. “A lot of people think you can make miracles.”
Coun. Albanese said a sense of civic pride is an asset.
“Personally, I love Fort Frances,” he remarked. “I have been volunteering for the Town of Fort Frances for the last 42 years.
“I’d like to see Fort Frances grow and be at the front,” added Coun. Albanese, who admitted “times are tough” and council is having to “work with what it’s got” right now.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft warned there is a steep learning curve to the job in the beginning. And in fact, he and the other members of council always are learning something new about how the town works.
The plus side is there’s always someone knowledgeable and experienced there to help.
“We’ve got a lot of good people working for the town right now, a lot of dedicated people working for the town right now, so you see really inside a lot of the things they do, and that’s a good thing,” he noted.
“Everyone’s willing to help,” echoed Coun. Hallikas. “We really want whoever we get to be a successful, well-functioning member of our council.”
Being a councillor also is an opportunity to meet other people from other places, ranging from district reeves, mayors, and councillors to politicians in senior levels of government while attending conferences elsewhere in the province.
While council will appoint the best applicant for the job, Coun. Hallikas said he would like to see council become more diverse and reflective of the whole community.
“Right now, our council is basically a bunch of old white guys,” he remarked. “I say that with the greatest respect, I love them all dearly, but I really would like to see a little more diversity; see the make-up of council mimic more accurately the make-up of our community.
“It would be so nice to see a younger person on who’s going to be a around a while,” Coun. Hallikas noted. “To me, personally, it’s absolutely essential we get a female—we’ve got to have a woman’s point of view on there.
“And I personally would really like to see someone of Métis heritage or First Nations’ heritage, so that we can get that representation that mimics the representation of our own community.”
Coun. Wiedenhoeft agreed.
“It would be really, really nice if we could get a younger person, with some newer ideas,” he said.
“Not that some of us old guys don’t have newer ideas, but I think it brings a vitality to [council],” he reasoned.
“Young people that want to dedicate themselves to the council of the Town of Fort Frances are more than welcome,” said Coun. Albanese, who clarified “the door is open” now that the application process is underway and no one is discouraged from applying.
A serious consideration for council candidates is the time it takes to do the job, said Coun. Wiedenhoeft.
“There’s no doubt about it,” he stressed. “We have several meetings a week.
“I think a lot of people think we have a couple meetings a month, but we have a lot of meetings.”
In addition to the semi-monthly council and committee of the whole meetings, each councillor sits on several executive and advisory committees.
At certain times, such as during the budget process, the number of meetings multiply.
And then there’s the homework. Coun. Wiedenhoeft said that, on average, councillors spend 10-20 hours a week reading materials to prepare for meetings.
“On top of the meetings that you do attend, there is a tremendous amount of reading that you have to do to stay on top of the agendas you get for all those meetings,” he explained, noting some weeks are more or less busy, but it’s rarely consistent.
Coun. Wiedenhoeft conceded it is not easy to attend the meetings a councillor needs to attend if they are not retired or self-employed.
“A lot of the meetings are, unfortunately, during the day, which really precludes someone who has a full-time occupation from getting involved,” he remarked.
“It’s possible but it’s difficult, especially if they’re not their own employer.
“If they’re putting in a 40-hour week of regular days, it would be very difficult to accomplish,” he reiterated.
“You have to work with your employer and make sure that he gives you time to dedicate yourself to council, to the people of Fort Frances,” agreed Coun. Albanese.
The job also is stressful. Coun. Hallikas admitted that given the town’s financial situation and other issues before it, “this is probably, if you’re thinking about getting into municipal politics, the worst time to do it.”
He pointed out that fielding criticism comes with the territory.
“You have to be able to take criticism and realize that most of the criticism isn’t personal—it’s people in the community expressing their opinion,” noted Coun. Hallikas.
“And no matter what you decide, someone is not going to agree with you and usually they’ll tell you about it.
“In fact, the people who disagree with a decision tend to speak up much more than people who agree with you,” Coun. Hallikas added.
“People who agree with you tend not to say anything at all.”
The current term of council ends Nov. 30, 2014, so the position of councillor being applied for would be for 21 months.
The position of councillor does include remuneration. Councillors have a base salary of $12,000.
They also get paid per diems and reimbursement for travel expenses, and some get honorariums for being appointees on certain boards, such as the Northwestern Health Unit, Fort Frances Power Corp., and Police Services Board.
Applications must be turned in to the clerk’s office no later than 4:30 p.m. on Feb. 28.
That includes a cover letter stating why the applicant should be considered for the position, as well as a résumé and a statement of qualification to hold the office.
Candidates also must be willing to attend an interview with council.
Council will decide which candidates will be considered for an interview, and those people will be contacted.
Council must appoint a candidate by March 29, as per the Municipal Act.
For more information, contact clerk Glenn Treftlin at 274-5323 ext. 236 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org