Thinking of running for director?
Instead of a newsletter this month, since things are fairly quiet, I thought I’d create a bit of a guide if you or someone you know is interested in running. Our municipal elections this year are on October 15th, and as previously announced, I will not be seeking re-election. Here are some things to ponder if you are considering running:
1. It’s a big commitment
Expect to be spending 20 hours a week year-round except for an August hiatus for four years straight. You can schedule your time when you read the approx. 200 pages a week of agendas, but your Thursdays are generally fully committed, and there are a number of other scheduled commitments, including evening APC and OCPC meetings, public hearings and public events to attend. Pre-COVID the Roberts Creek directors held court at the gumboot café every Saturday (for my predecessors, I did one Saturday a month).
2. Write a newsletter and maintain a website
I found doing this invaluable. It allowed me to rehash the month, consolidate my thoughts and focus on what’s important. It’s a central place to point to for those FAQ’s and eliminated a lot of telling the same story over and over again. It also makes short work of anyone complaining “I didn’t know about this…” “Why didn’t you tell me…” There really is no excuse when it’s on the internet and if you’re interested, you can find it all. The tone I tried to strike was informative but not condescending, honest and to the point, using plain language and not taking myself too seriously. I have a list of subscribers that I can contact to see if they would like to have their info passed on to my successor. If it feels overwhelming to do this, I can help, but it also is pretty easy to set something up and it costs $150 a year that you can claim as a constituency expense.
3. Keep an open mind
If you are running because one or two issues bother you, then don’t. Especially if those issues are outside of the SCRD’s direct control. We don’t have jurisdiction over rural roads, crown land or the ocean, so don’t campaign for better roads, protecting the trees and ending fish farming. Of course you can advocate with senior government, but you can neither expect anything to happen or make it your sole reason for sitting there. The breadth of issues you will have to decide on is vast, from where our garbage goes to how much we should pay for water to what to do with our cemeteries and how we should communicate our recreation programs, so don’t run on something you can’t do anything about and focus on what you can do.
I approached it with the attitude that my job is to represent the community of Roberts Creek. Rather than impose my desires I used fact-based and objectively grounded reasoning for my decisions, and at times I voted against my desires, as the community clearly indicated that it was not aligned with them.
I also approached every meeting as an opportunity to learn and to be proven wrong. I may be coming in with an opinion on a subject, but if one of the directors or staff made a good counter argument, then I was willing to change my mind. The idea is to make the decision that’s best for the community, and I have to say that this term we generally came away with a better decision after we discussed it than had we been asked to make it on our own. All decisions are board decisions, and if you disagree you can vote against a decision, but don’t get your knickers in a twist if the decision doesn’t go your way. There must be enough reason in the decision for at least 3-5 other smart and capable people (I hope) to vote a different way.
4. Respect staff and your fellow directors
If you’re running to “clean up the mess, corruption and to lower taxes”, then get ready for a tough slog. I found in my four years that staff, including the senior managers and the CAO, care deeply about our community, are members of this community and are passionate about getting it right. They often have an ungrateful position of having to say no to things, but often it is the BC local government act and the need for public and/or board approval that really slows things down and makes things inefficient. Learning to be patient is something you need to embrace in this position.
I was incredibly lucky to be sitting on a board with directors that I highly respected, that all were there to get work done and represent their community to the best of their abilities. There was no grand standing, no ulterior motives, no power-hungriness and just a willingness to cooperate to achieve the best outcome for our community. The next board may not be the same. Nevertheless, I came in with the attitude to respect each member of the board, try to understand where they’re coming from and why (even if it is from a place of insecurity and a desperate need to prove their parents that this little boy/girl is something after all) and address the issue, not the person. The hope and intention is that out of 9 directors that the majority are reasonably well adjusted and will continue to steer the community in the right direction. If you think all the other directors are useless, then you are probably the nut on the board.
As for lowering taxes or even keeping the increase at 0, it’s an unrealistic expectation. Inflation alone makes it impossible, and a historic tendency of only paying for the installation of infrastructure but failing to account for the continuous upkeep and replacement of over 60 years worth of accumulated assets, plus adding new assets, makes it an exercise in futility if you are expecting the same service. If you want to decrease taxes or keep them at 0, ask yourself what you no longer want or need the government to provide or what service levels you want to decrease.
If you’re thinking of running, you will have to plan a little. You can pick up a nomination package at the SCRD and it will give you all the information you need to know and then some. You will have to establish a campaign bank account and keep track of all your expenses. I spent around $1700 on my campaign, and since nobody really knew me I self-financed it. A one-page mail-out via Canada Post works, a website is helpful, and I had a bunch of roadside posters made (at Vital Signs, got to support local) that I asked friends to put up by their driveway. It’s a bit weird to promote yourself, but make an effort to show up at least for the all candidate debates and make the rounds with the movers and shakers of the community. If you don’t know who they are, ask.
6. Know the basics
The first thing I did when considering running was to read our Official Community Plan (OCP). It’s a bit long in the tooth now (2012) and doesn’t sufficiently address some emerging issues (housing crisis, wildfire, climate change and water), but if you can’t get on board with it, then you are not really someone who should be speaking on behalf of the community. Attend some board and committee, APC and OCPC meetings, in person if possible, and read my website to see what the current and historical issues are. Donna McMahon’s website is also excellent. The SCRD website is fairly useless, we have a new one coming soon, but have a look through it and familiarize yourself with what it is the SCRD does and how it is structured. If you are familiar with Robert’s Rules, it’s an asset. I wasn’t and it was ok, just don’t start chairing any meetings until you get the hang of how they work. It’s a steep learning curve.
7. The pay
During this term we had a fairly thorough review of the remuneration given to the directors and how it is structured. We moved away from a “per meeting attended” form of pay to a salary model, in the hope that future board members would take their roles as seriously as this one does. In the end, you’re walking away with $33,000 or so per year.
I personally think that something in the realm of $50,000 a year is more commensurate with the responsibility, the education, skills and demands of this job. A full-time working professional should be looking at minimum $100,000 a year for this kind of position with the desired qualifications, and since the demand is half-time, it makes sense to me.
Increasing the pay will also be an incentive for productive working people to consider quitting their job to run for office, which in turn creates more diversity in skill and age groups on the board. There is a reason why many boards across BC are stale, pale and male. They are the retired men who have the financial independence and the time to dedicate to this without having to worry about the income.
I understand the argument that this is a way of giving back to the community and we shouldn’t ask for a high wage, but we must also be aware that this also means the quality of candidates and the level of diversity is not always where we would like it to be.
It’s always hard to give yourself a raise, but in the great scheme of things, $180,000 per year spread across 30,000 people is a small price to pay for an improved pool of candidates. It will be interesting to see the pool of candidates this year across the Sunshine Coast. We thankfully have a fair share of women currently on the board, I hope it stays that way.
8. The First Nations
I think it’s important enough to mention it here. We are privileged to live on the territories of the Squamish and Shishalh First Nation, and both are very sophisticated First Nations that are stepping into their power in a big way. They are a large part of our future and they deserve to be. Status quo and the way things used to be are not what we should be looking for here. The way this relationship will evolve and what role we as a local government play in it is still evolving, but this is one of the challenges of our time moving forward. It is best to acknowledge this reality than to avoid it or try to turn back the clocks.
About the author: Andreas Tize is currently (2018-2022) the director for Area D (Roberts Creek) on the Sunshine Coast of BC.