Opinion

Full time mayor is more than a money issue

Although Terrace council has, for now, rejected the idea of a full time mayor, it’s an idea worth exploring, because for some people, the concept was based on a mistaken premise.

Whether sitting at home, out for a walk, shopping, or attending a council meeting, the mayor’s responsibilities rest with the incumbent 24/7 for the full term. Every mayor is a full-time mayor, be that in Vancouver or Zeballos (population 125).

The question then becomes “how much time does the community expect its mayor to devote exclusively to the activities of the office?”

The mayor’s first responsibility pursuant to the Community Charter provincial legislation is “to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality and its community” and “to contribute to the development and evaluation of the policies and programs of the municipality respecting its services and other activities”.

The mayor is also “the head and chief executive officer of the municipality” and in that capacity must, in addition, “provide leadership to the council, including recommending bylaws, resolutions and other measures that, in the mayor’s opinion, may assist the peace, order and good government of the municipality” and “provide, on behalf of the council, general direction to municipal officers respecting implementation of municipal policies, programs and other directions of the council.” What time demands arise from these additional responsibilities?

Too much attention focused on the mayor’s leadership responsibilities tends to overwhelm the paramount responsibilities as a member of council. The nature of leadership responsibilities in the context of democratic politics is often misunderstood. The responsibilities for the “peace, order and good government of the municipality” rest equally with all seven members of council, not with the mayor alone. Beyond offering advice and making recommendations to council, the mayor’s paramount leadership responsibility is to effect the implementation of council’s policies and directions by the municipality’s managers.

Canadian politics suffers from a leadership fetish. We are mesmerized by ‘The Leader’, be that the Prime Minister, provincial premier, or mayor, as we all but ignore the people we elect to represent our interests, to critically examine and debate issues, and to ultimately decide on which laws and policies best serve the community. Council is not the mayor’s advisory committee: it is the municipality’s law-making assembly.

A community with a strong-headed mayor leading a weak council runs the risk of being lead up the wrong creek, albeit efficiently. A community is better served by an energetic council defining the fences within which their mayor may freely roam.

It is not a question of money; it is a question of choice. The demands on a mayor in a municipality of 12,000 are not what they are in municipalities in the 75,000 or more population range.

How large is the pool of individuals with the competency, aptitude, and flair desired in a mayor who would also be free to take a four years leave of absence? How many qualified individuals would have to decline because the luxury of a four-year absence from their own business or place of employment would quite simply be out of the question?

A community’s priority should be to attract a strong pool of candidates who know the community and who have the talent to articulate its interests and are willing and able to serve on council.

Democracy needs council candidates who possess the competence and confidence to monitor and evaluate the municipality’s performance under the mayor’s leadership.

What mayoralty candidates need is a vision for the community and the mastery to direct a professional staff. In busy times when help is needed at the helm, and if that is a priority, it would be prudent to hire an assistant for the chief administrative officer rather than to limit the pool of potential mayors.

The matter of cost is secondary. As is often the case with government, the question should not be ‘can we afford it?’ It should be “what are our priorities?” A more difficult question to answer.

Retired public sector administrator Andre Carrel lives in Terrace, B.C. He also sat on the City of Terrace-appointed committee this year which made recommendations concerning council remuneration to council.

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