Thursday, July 25, 2013

Running for Council?

Many people are getting asked the question: "Are you running for Council" in these lazy days of summer heading into a frenetic fall when election signs will pop up throughout Alberta. Yes, it will soon be municipal election season with decision day slated for October 21st.

Those of us potentially seeking re-election are getting almost daily enquiries about our intentions while others, the aspiring municipal politicians, are gathering their forces and resources to hit the ground running on nomination day.  Still others might be teetering on the fence, unsure of whether putting their name on the ballot is a smart and reasonable idea or cause to reach for their anxiety medicine.

Fort McMurray Today reporter Andrew Bates will be calling me later this morning probing my thoughts as to how a Council hopeful should approach the election period that will overtake us starting September 23rd.  I think way better sitting here in my study, coffee within reach, writing a blog.  With that reality in mind, I'm going to lay out 10 tips if you're thinking of running for a council seat for the first time.

1 | Understand the commitment

Before you agree to put your name on the ballot, take the time to understand the commitment involved. We were blessed this term with individuals who were super-engaged, present and prepared.  It made all the difference in the world in terms of our ability as a team to make good decisions, and move our region forward.  But aware that there is a scope of work that happens outside the view of the council chamber cameras that needs to be fully understand.  You also need to know that you're signing up for a four-year stint - new for Alberta this fall. Up to this point, municipal terms were three years.

2 | Read everything you can get your hands on

There are myriad documents, plans and meeting minutes that you have complete access to via the Internet.  Take the time to do a deep dive into the Municipal Development Plan.  In my view, this is a foundational document that forms the basis for where we are going as a region, shaped by many thousands of voices, likely including your own.  There are many others: City Centre Area Redevelopment Plan, Waterfront Program, and Strategic Plan to name a few.  There are also loads of meeting minutes available online so you can begin to get a feel for how public meetings work.

3 | Attend a meeting

If you have never attended a municipal council meeting, take the time to do that in advance of the election.  Not only does your presence get noticed and talked about, you get to see what happens from the moment Mayor Blake bangs the gavel to when Councillor Blair motions to adjourn.  Alternatively, you can watch online, but to be honest, there is no substitute for the real thing.  We have two more public meetings within this mandate for you to choose from: August 27 and September 10.  The meetings begin on the stroke of 6 pm in Municipal Council Chambers in Jubilee Centre.  Agendas are always posted the Friday before the meeting here.

4 | Buy a Councillor a coffee

The best perspective you are ever going to get is from those of us who have been in the roles the last three years, or in several cases, longer.  I can't speak for all of my colleagues, but if a person interested in running wants to sit down to ask questions, get advice, or just have a friendly chat, I'll move heaven and earth to make the time.  Several present and former councillors did that for me, and it really helped solidify the final decision I made to run and gave me a much better understanding of what I was signing up for.

5 | Seek first to understand

This is one of my favourite mantras, one of the seven habits espoused by Stephen Covey: Seek first to understand, then to be understood.  You might be running, propelled by a burning issue that you want to use as the fulcrum of your campaign strategy.  Be careful. Remember that any one of us is only one vote among 11, that there are 10 other sets of eyes looking at an issue.  Make sure you pull yourself back from a potential emotionally-charged position on a certain topic, take an objective 360-degree view of the issue, listening to all sides, researching and reflecting on the strength and viability of your position.  At the end of the day as elected officials we are charged with the responsibility of making a decision that for the greater good of our community and region, based on all available facts and opinions.

6 | Be ready to engage

If you're going to run, potentially spending some of your own financial resources and those of your supporters, you owe it to yourself and them to jump into every engagement opportunity that your time will allow.  If the Chamber of Commerce invites you to a forum, drop everything to be there.  If they re-employ their "Talking Stick" - an online question and answer forum - take the time to answer every question.  If a multi-cultural group invites you to an event or if you get an invitation to a banquet or meeting, say "Yes!"  If you are visibly absent from an engagement opportunity, it will get noticed and conclusions may get made that you won't like.

7 | Building brand

At a marketing level, this is the biggest challenge in making your inaugural run for a council seat.  Depending on what your current role is, either in the workplace or in the community, you need to make a compelling case, selling the broader community on who you are, what you stand for, and why they should give you their vote.  This is done in many different ways: election signs, social media, website, blogs, news releases, special events, appearances, forums, etc.  Find someone with a marketing head, and get them on your team.

8 | Keep it positive

OK, I know some people aren't going to agree on this one, but I am resolute.  If you go negative, you will not win.  Choose the high road for your best chance at success.

9 | Embrace the fear

If you're frightened at the prospect of actually winning and fulfilling the responsibilities of an elected official, don't feel like the odd duck out.  You are having a perfectly natural reaction to the prospect of putting yourself in the public eye, of being held to a higher account, of having to keep your head when all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you.  Leadership is leaping into the abyss, but the good news is that you will find tremendous support, from your colleagues, municipal staff, other elected officials, and many members of the public.  It's a leap worth taking, fear worth embracing.

10 | Identify your compelling WHY

Many people are going to ask you why you are running for council.  We all have our reasons, the life circumstances that put us in a position of seeking public office, community passions that have inspired us to take the next step in our leadership journey.  Make sure you understand yours.  Having an authentic answer to this question will serve you incredibly well when you declare your intentions.  Find a quiet spot under a tree, and reflect for a few moments on the next four years, and how a successful election campaign will strengthen your community, your family, and ultimately, you.


The past three years have been extraordinary.  I was elected to council by the slimmest of margins in 2010.  It was one of the most gut-wrenching and thrilling nights of my life, surrounded by friends and family.  The opportunity to serve, has been everything I thought it would be and much more.  I'm grateful to my respected colleagues for their mentorship, support and dedication to this region.  I'm grateful to the supportive and talented staff at the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.  I'm honoured by the citizens of this region who have allowed me to represent them.  It has been a thrill to give voice to the Big Spirit and positive attributes of Wood Buffalo with people from around the province, country and world that I have had the privilege to interact with as one of your councillors.  It is an experience that I would recommend to anyone who has a passion to serve.

If you want more information, I would strongly suggest attending on of the Election Candidate Information Sessions being offered:

July 27 - 9 am - 11 am

August 14 - 7 pm - 9 pm

August 24 - 9 am - 11 am

September 14 - 9 am - 11 am

September 18 - 1 pm - 3 pm, 7 pm - 9 pm

More candidate information can be accessed by clicking here.