Next Council to have more comprehensive training with passing of Council Orientation Plan

by Colin Smith

Councillors elected in the municipal election this fall will be provided with orientation and training sessions beginning a few days after the vote and stretching into early next year.

The 2021 Town of Morinville Council Orientation and Training Plan was approved by Council at its regular meeting, following discussion at a previous Committee of the Whole meeting.

The plan includes a draft schedule that begins with the Morinville’s Chief Administrative Officer delivering Council orientation binders to successful candidates on election day, October 18, following tabulation of the votes.

A session on information technology orientation, agencies, boards and commissions, and the deputy mayor rotation schedule takes place on October 21, following a Meet and Greet luncheon.

On October 28, Morinville Councillors will get together with elected officials from Sturgeon County and surrounding municipalities for the Joint Council Government Orientation Workshop. The history role of local government in Alberta, Council and Administration roles and responsibilities, the Municipal Government Act (MGA) and Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOIP) will be discussed.

Topics of subsequent orientation and training sessions will include communications and public relations, municipal organization and functions, parliamentary procedure and municipal finance.

Councillors will be taken on a tour of town facilities and sites, and an Indigenous awareness blanket training exercise is scheduled for November.

The MGA specifies that the municipalities must offer orientation training to each Councillor, to be held within 90 days after the Councillor takes the oath of office.

Morinville Online asked today’s Councillors what they wish they had known going into their term on Council, which should be included in the orientation and training.

Mayor Barry Turner: “With twenty years of hindsight on this I have noted a number of challenges that are faced by all Councils. All Councils struggle with clarity in the area of governance vs. operational decisions and establishing clarity on what decisions Council should make and what decisions are best left to the administrative team.

Each Council sets those boundaries differently based on the comfort level of each Council. This is one of the most important aspects of team culture for a governing body and I feel that most Councils do not spend enough time and effort to establish clarity.

The other key information that I feel is extremely important for a new member of Council is to have a clear understanding of the many ways to bring specific items and issues to the Council table or address resident concerns. There are many options for doing this and it can be challenging for a new Councillor to choose the best method for each issue or concern. I would have liked to have more information early on to help me understand how I could use these options in the most effective way, and to get the best results for the community, Council and staff.”

Deputy Mayor Nicole Boutestein: “Looking back on any council orientation that I have been part of, I think we are missing how to actually chair a meeting.

It can be overwhelming and daunting even if you have chaired a meeting in the past.  There are so many rules to follow — parliamentary procedures, Robert’s rules, etc., and if that isn’t challenging enough, add being nervous to the list.  If a ‘mock council meeting’ was part of the orientation process this may help alleviate some of the pressure and stress.”

Councillor Rebecca Balanko: “As much as I thought I was prepared, I wasn’t. The training was brief and to just determine the acronyms could’ve been a one-day session. I like the layout of the plan now. This one is robust and ours wasn’t even a day in duration. I think visiting town sites and facilities would’ve been ideal. Having our Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) change in the first year made things difficult too. In no particular order, here are the things I wish had been reviewed after the election and within Council orientation.

  1. Media relations
  2. Conflict resolution and critical response; within the team, but more so, within social media, residents and partners.
  3. Where is the line drawn? Our role and what we are needing to know to do our role effectively. If we don’t know where the line is, it’s difficult to know where to stand.
  4. Adequate way/process to bring forward resident concerns.
  5. Deputy Mayor training
  6. Where the line is drawn between operations and governance.
    I am in no way being critical, I feel like some gaps were there and with so many new Council members, it would’ve made the transition less bumpy.”

Councillor Stephen Dafoe: “I had a bit of an advantage in my first term in that I was pretty familiar with a lot of things Council-related from several years of covering councils in the province. I feel what is missing in most orientations is stressing the importance of the MGA and FOIP legislation. Those two documents are the Gospels of the gig, and I continue to be baffled at how many elected officials in the province remain largely unfamiliar with them.

I’m pleased to see Administration with Council’s input making a much broader orientation, but I will continue to advocate for the addition of some outside information on what the resident/business community expects from those chosen to manage the community. It is important to have training from Administration and outside experts in the municipal world, but I’d like to see the next Council receive some input from those affected by Council decisions. That would include resident advocacy groups, Chamber, developers, etc.”

Councillor Lawrence Giffin: “The orientation that Councillors took three years ago was like drinking from a fire hose. The first full-day orientation session was given by the CAO (we have a different CAO now) shortly after the election. The session covered practically every aspect of municipal government with very little explanation. The orientation proposed for the next Council is much more spread out and structured. It has timelines and shorter sessions. This will give Councillors more of a chance to assimilate the information.”

Councillor Sarah Hall: “I believe staff did a wonderful job pulling together all the pieces of education that a first Councillor will need coming into the position. There is nothing I would add to their list right now but would have benefited if able to have this extensive orientation at the beginning of last term. I believe having a better understanding of how important strategic planning is in guiding all of the work council does, is important, as well as a deep delve into best practices on budgeting and mil rate setting.”

Councillor Scott Richardson: There definitely is a lot to learn and a steep learning curve for a first time Councillor. I wish we would have had more training on Robert’s Rules of Order. We very briefly went over that in orientation but only got a basic understanding. I think it would be of huge benefit to have more training on this for Councillors. Having Councillors know procedurally what they can and cannot do will greatly improve the efficiency of the meetings.

I took tax assessment appeals training because of a board that I sit on and it was awesome in helping me to understand assessment values, classes and subclass. This course also went through the MGA and case law on tax assessment appeals and it was very valuable to me as a Councillor in understanding the tax assessment process and what a municipality can and cannot do with subclass and classes.

Speaking of the MGA I think you could almost do a full day or two of training on the MGA. It’s the biggest part of governance a councillor deals with on a day-to-day basis.

More in-depth training on budgeting would be another priority for training. Councillors need to understand the sides to the budget: tax-supported, utilities-supported and the consolidated budget. Councillors should understand what that means and what controls the revenues to the budget segments. The training should also go through the importance of reserves, asset management and per capita spending on services for regional comparators.

 

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