The most effective municipal council I have ever covered was in Summerland in the mid-1990s, when seven people from a variety of backgrounds and representing multiple ideological views came together around the table.
The seven members were knowledgeable members of the community. Their professional backgrounds included administration, agriculture, small business, professional work and other areas. They were on the political right and left, as well as one who did not fit into any political ideology. Some had experience in local government and some were new to the council table.
This mix made for some lively discussions. Council meetings could get long, but they were seldom boring.
Oddly, when it came time for the votes, there were not a lot of split decisions. And when there was a disagreement, it did not necessarily fall along ideological lines.
I watched this council in action more than 25 years ago, when I started working at the Summerland Review, and I still look at the decision-making process as an example of a good local government in action.
This wasn’t the first local government board I had covered, nor was it the last. Over the years, I have covered numerous councils, school boards and regional district boards and I have watched as these governing bodies have had to wrestle with some difficult issues.
Budgets and spending decisions are not easy, and decisions about land use and community plans can result in heated responses from the community.
This council was was dealing with budgets and tax rates, a new sewer system and an updated Official Community Plan, along with the day-to-day decisions affecting the community.
Whether one agreed or disagreed with specific decisions, the process worked well. I have watched other councils and governing boards since that time, but I still see this council from the mid-1990s as an example of an ideal local government. What set this council apart? I have been trying to answer this question for years.
Other councils and governing boards have had knowledgeable people, a good range of backgrounds and a mix of views and ideologies. It is possible to find the components that made up this council from the 1990s.
But there was one important quality that made this council work effectively. All seven people around the table had a level of respect for each other. They were willing to listen to each other and consider a variety of ideas.Disagreements were not personal, and no matter what had happened at the council table, these seven people had a good working relationship.
This council was more than a collection of seven individual members. Together, they became a strong team.
In a few weeks, it will be time to elect new councils, school boards and regional districts around the province. During their four-year terms, those elected will make some important decisions affecting the day-to-day lives of the people the represent.
In preparation, many candidates are presenting their platforms and outlining their positions on issues affecting their communities or regions.
The platforms can provide some information about an individual candidate’s goals and values, but platforms and policy statements do not tell the whole story.
A council or governing body is greater than the individual members who sit on the board. Effective local governments function with a spirit of teamwork and respect.
John Arendt is editor of the Summerland Review.