Professional development paying off for councillor

By Stephen Dafoe

Morinville – Councillor Lisa Holmes has been putting her first year on council to good use, improving her understanding of municipal governance and all that goes with it. Holmes, who has outpaced her council colleagues in terms of professional development this year, has been taking the Elected Officials Program through the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association (AUMA).

“It’s open only to elected officials and they have a wide variety of courses,” Holmes said, noting some offerings are core courses that must be taken, while others are optional.

Through the program, the councillor has studied municipal planning, municipal finance, effective decision making and a variety of other topics related to her council position. “Everything I could throughout the year, I’ve taken,” she said. “I feel it’s important to do professional development.”

But while the program has afforded Councillor Holmes an opportunity to learn more about the things she must make decisions on, it has given her opportunity to network, meeting with other elected officials from across the province. Those networks have allowed Holmes to get more information on services and programs available to the community.

“It kind of hit me that it was really important when I went to the Regional Partnerships course and [Councillors] Tom Flynn and Karen Shaw from Sturgeon County walked in,” Holmes said. “It’s one thing to talk about regional partnerships with other people; it’s another thing to learn about it with your regional partners.”

But Holmes’ taking of courses is not funded by a bottomless pocket of funds. The councillor explained council has a small budget for professional development and that her fellow councillors have been supportive of her expanding her budget to take the courses, those not using their allotment passing professional budget dollars her way. The councillor said she has been fortunate this year to have the time to take the courses, a situation that has allowed her to accelerate her learning pace.

“It’s unusual for a first year councillor to complete the program, which I will be doing by the end of the fall,” Holmes said, adding the program coordinator has suggested Holmes become a provincial champion of the Elected Officials Program. “When we go to the conference for AUMA, I’ll be talking to other elected officials about how it’s helped me in Morinville and how it’s helped me to become a better elected official and better advocate for the community.”

Explaining it on those terms will be no problem for Councillor Holmes who feels her participation in the Elected Officials Program has helped council as a whole. Through the municipal finance course, Holmes learned about finance and audit committees and how they have been helpful in other communities. “I brought that idea forward to council as a motion, and then we did this new committee which I am the chair of,” she said. “It’s going to help us to have a sober second thought as to where our financial processes are, where we’re headed financially in the future as a town. It was a really good opportunity to bring what I had learned to the table.”

Holmes said she finds she uses the knowledge she has gained through the Elected Officials Program every day. The councillor said she has had great support from her fellow councillors and Mayor Bertschi on her involvement in the program and that Councillor Ben Van De Walle was the sixth person in the province to complete the Elected Officials Program.

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