Some of the thing I've learned after 3 years on Council

I took this leap into public life three years ago to learn some things.  Getting elected (by the narrowest of margins in 2010) was my next step in a community leadership journey that included 15 years of being involved in the growth of interPLAY and the birth of Events Wood Buffalo, going through the Leadership Wood Buffalo program, serving on the provincial Theatre Alberta board, being Culture Chair of the 2003 Alberta Seniors Games, and directing, producing, designing, promoting and producing theatrical productions going back as far as 1986, including my involvement in many other boards, committees and initiatives.  All of these experiences have contributed to my education in building community, but none more so than having had the honour to serve as a regional councillor in the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo.

It begs the question "What did I learn?"  In some ways, there is no better time to stop and reflect on this key question than in the dying days of an election campaign that has tested our wits and our mettle.  Answering questions posted on The Talking Stick - almost 200 to date, or about 25,000 words for me - has tested my knowledge of the issues and has given me tremendous pause about the things I've learned and the things I still need to figure out.

POLITICS IS PEOPLE

This pursuit is all about people: the citizens we serve, the people we serve with on council, the people who work with us at the RMWB, and the people we connect with from other levels of governments and other constituencies.  Relationships are everything, and listening is essential.  We'll never get it 100% right, but we can come close if focus on those two things.

YOU'VE GOT TO DO THE WORK

You can't fake this job.  If you don't keep up with the required reading. If you lose your focus in a council meeting.  If you don't ask enough questions to fully understand the issue.  You will stand out, and not in a good way.

WATCH WHAT YOU SAY AND DO

When you are an elected official, you need to be aware that the things you say and do will be heard and seen through that filter, whether you are speaking or acting from that perspective or not.  There were a number of times when I got called out, and rightly so, for things I said or did that were inappropriate.  It's an easy thing to do without even realizing it.  I found myself apologizing at a couple of different junctures in the last three years for lapses in judgement.

THEY ARE KEEPING SCORE

Everything we say and do in council chambers is seen, heard, recorded and remembered.  Whether you voted in favour of one thing or in opposition to another thing, you may be taken to task for whatever position you took.  That is why doing the work is so important.  You need to be confident in your rationale because at some point you're going to have to explain, and possibly defend, your decision.

YOU CAN PLEASE SOME OF THE PEOPLE...

It is a rare occasion when a decision you make is going to please everyone.  Someone is almost always going to take exception with a position you took on a controversial issue, and you need to be prepared to deal with it.  Growing a thicker skin is essential if you're going to survive and thrive as a politician.

THE LITMUS TEST

After the dust has settled on a contentious vote, you need to be able to answer in the affirmative to the following questions: 1) Did I come into the debate with an open mind?, 2) Did I have a full understanding of the issue before voting?, 3) Based on all the information, perspectives, discussion and debate did I vote based on what I felt was in the best interests of the region as a whole?

PUBLIC BUSINESS IS BEST DONE PUBLICLY

This mantra from governance guru George Cuff really hit home for me when he first shared it with the incoming council in the fall of 2010.  It reminds us that the place to debate and decide upon issues is in a public council meeting, and nowhere else.

POLITICS IS PERSONAL

I believe that all of us are in this for the right reasons.  We want to build a stronger, better, more sustainable, and to quote Councillor Tatum - remarkable, community and region.  Most of our citizens have similar aspirations.  There will be times when they will not agree with a decision or direction we take.  It will be personal, and that's OK.

SO MUCH MORE TO LEARN

It becomes increasingly clear to me as I get older that there is so much more to learn.  Whatever happens on October 21st, my learning journey will continue down whatever path the voters have in mind for me.

GRATITUDE

I'm grateful to everyone who has contributed to my community leadership education, but especially to those who have provided so much in the last three years while serving on council. It would be a very long list that would include hundreds of citizens, colleagues on council and many from the other orders of government, so many staff members of the RMWB, and community and industry leaders throughout Wood Buffalo.  Thank you!

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