The most effective city council I’ve ever covered took place in Summerland in the mid-1990s, when seven people from diverse backgrounds and representing multiple ideological views gathered around the table.
The seven members were knowledgeable members of the community. Their professional backgrounds included administration, agriculture, small business, professional work, and other fields. They belonged to the political right and left, as well as those who did not correspond to any political ideology. Some had experience in local government and others were new to the council table.
This mixture gave rise to heated discussions. Council meetings could be long, but they were rarely boring.
Curiously, at the time of the votes, there were not many shared decisions. And when there was a disagreement, it was not necessarily ideological.
I watched this council in action over 25 years ago when I started working at Summerland Review, and I still look to the decision-making process as an example of good local government in action.
This was not the first local council I had covered, nor the last. Over the years I have covered many councils, school boards and regional district councils and watched these governing bodies grapple with difficult issues.
Budgeting and spending decisions are not easy, and decisions about land use and community plans can lead to heated reactions from the community.
This council dealt with budgets and tax rates, a new sewage system and an updated official community plan, as well as day-to-day decisions affecting the community.
Whether or not one agreed with specific decisions, the process worked well. I have watched other councils and boards since then, but I still look to this council from the mid-1990s as an example of ideal local government. What sets this board apart? I have tried to answer this question for years.
Other councils and boards have had knowledgeable people, a good range of backgrounds and a mix of viewpoints 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 advice work effectively. The seven people around the table respected each other. They were willing to listen to each other and consider a variety of ideas. The disagreements weren’t personal, and no matter what happened at the board table, these seven people had a good working relationship.
This council was more than a collection of seven individual members. Together they have become a strong team.
In a few weeks, it will be time to elect new councils, school boards and regional districts across the province. During their four-year term, elected officials will make important decisions affecting the daily lives of the people they represent.
In preparation, many candidates present their platforms and state their positions on issues affecting their communities or regions.
Platforms can provide information about an individual candidate’s goals and values, but platforms and policy statements don’t tell the whole story.
A board or governing body is more important than the individual members who sit on the board. Effective local governments operate in a spirit of teamwork and respect.
John Arendt is editor of Summerland Review.
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