What does a City of Calgary Councillor really do?
Over the past 3 years, many residents have asked me - “What do you actually do”? From their feedback and questions, it was apparent their understanding of the job of a councillor was very mixed. As the election year is approaching (October 2017), several individuals have “thrown their hats in the ring” and begun making comments regarding their goals, if elected. Some of the candidates have announced goals that pertain to provincial or federal government levels rather than the municipal level. Thinking back on how I would have appreciated a more detailed insight into the job I was taking on, I have recommended to our City clerks that they provide a detailed orientation for candidates, one that outlines a Councillor’s job description, responsibilities and the commitments that are part of the job. Let’s hope that all candidates really understand what the job entails. Accordingly, I have listed some personal observations and experiences, compiled over a one year period, to give them my perspective of the councillor’s job.
Time management - Critical to getting through the sheer volume of preparation for, and attendance at, numerous meetings and events. Below is a sample of my most recent year:
• 30 council meetings
• 71 committee meetings
• 7 Business Planning & Budget meetings
• 105 Administration meetings regarding Ward 1 issues
• 130 Administration meetings regarding city-wide issues
• 60 committee-related issues meeting
• 102 Councillor /Deputy Mayor events
• 196 Community/Ward meetings (CA, Open Houses, public engagements, stakeholder meetings, etc.)
• 203 personal call back to residents
• 10,993 emails to the office
Balancing roles and priorities
As councillors, we wear three different “hats”; one when representing the community, a second when representing the ward, and a third when representing the City of Calgary (governance). At times, the interests of these three stakeholders do not align and many issues have to be decided on the basis of what is best overall. A Councillor’s job reaches many different aspects of city life and at times very contentious issues that residents are very passionate about. While I feel confident my decisions are based on the most accurate, current and balanced information I have at the time, dealing with opposing views and balancing the needs of what is best for Calgarians can be challenging. Most people do not realize an average Ward is almost the same population (90,000 people) as the City of Lethbridge, which is governed by a Mayor and 7 councillors.
In the committees and council meetings numerous topics are discussed, such as land use, planning, businesses & licenses, parks, roads, infrastructure, recreation, safety, transit, budgets – operating and capital, bylaws, water and environment. Councillors must serve on 2 standing committees, with no extra compensation for doing so. Committees include -
• Standing Policy Committees (Can serve as Chair or Vice Chair)
• Planning and Urban Development
• Transportation & Transit
• Community & Protective Services
• Utilities & Corporate Services
Councillors must also serve on a minimum of 2 other special committees, again with no extra compensation. (Can serve as Chair or Vice Chair)
• Land & Assets
• Audit Committee
• Priorities and Finance
• Gas, Power & Telecommunications
Additionally, there are several boards various Councillors serve on (no compensation)
Police Commission - Enmax- Calgary Economic Development - Stampede Board - Public Library Board - YYC Housing - Company - Convention Centre - YYC Parking Authority - Federation of Canadian Municipalities - Calgary Arts Development Authority- Silvera for Seniors - Attainable Homes - YYC Homeless Foundation - Inter-Municipal (District of Foothills) - Family & Community Support Services - Legacy Parks Fund - YYC Regional Partnership - Legislative Task Force -Inter-Municipal (District of Rocky View) - AB Urban Municipal Association
I currently serve as Vice Chair – Priorities and Finance, Vice Chair – Land & Assets, Member - Planning & Urban Development, Member - Utilities & Corporate Services. Additionally, I serve on the Police Commission (commissioner), Board of Directors- Calgary Economic Development and Board of Directors-Silvera for Seniors.
The hours vary, but typically I put in between 60-75 hours/week. The above committees/council meetings involve significant reading. As an example, it’s normal to finish reading the council agenda for Monday’s meeting on Sunday night, and then call other councillors for clarification on different items. Community Association meetings are in the evenings, as are most open houses. Many community events fall on weekends. We also serve one month a year as Deputy Mayor, attending city-wide events. Hours for councillors can vary between individual Wards, depending on the development/growth of individual communities.
A typical day
Monday- October 03 – Day: 7:10 AM - Calgary Opener interview on location
8:00 AM - Breakfast with Olympians and interaction
9:00 AM - Meeting with Ward 1 staff for urgent matters
9:30 AM - Begin Combined (public) Council
Noon - Council break - lunch, made phone calls and followed up with staff on various issues
3:15 PM - Council break – made phone calls, misc. paperwork reviewed
6:00 PM - Dinner break with Council – made phone calls and continued paperwork
7:15 PM - Resume Council meeting
10:15 PM- Council ends
There are not enough hours in the day for me to attend every community meeting or reply to every phone call; I could not do my job without my three team members of Ward 1:
1. Executive Assistant: Gateway to office, schedules all meetings and appointments, screens phone calls, maintains organization of office, files and information flow, and main archivist.
2. Communications and Research Analyst: Social Media, Newsletters, responses to Resident inquiries, Communications (news review) and research on various city-wide topics/issues.
3. Community Liaison: In the “field” in Ward 1, dealing with various issues on-site and attending meetings on my behalf when I am double-scheduled or not available. Below is a list of the Community Liaison’s time (YTD):
• 48 CAB, BRZ,CMS, SSAPG type meetings
• 18 Community Engagement or Stakeholder type meetings (in the field, usually after hours)
• 24 In-house training or information sessions
• 34 in-office meetings with Councillor and other City or outside persons
• 68 in-the-field meetings, engagements, etc. (either alone representing Councillor, or accompanying Councillor)
• 130 reconnaissance, investigative, confirmation, etc. type of in-the-field visits, either in direct contact with individuals, or as an observer
• 200 “problems” resolved (direct e-mail, phone call, CRMs from Ward residents, Councillor-initiated, self-initiated), all not including any crosswalks, schools, etc. type issues
Are you ready to serve Calgarians?
This content represents the personal views and opinions of the Councillor and should not be taken as a statement of policy of The City of Calgary. The inclusion of any external content does not imply endorsement by The City of Calgary.