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Nohr: Addressing mistreatment of elected officials

Nohr: Addressing mistreatment of elected officials

ColumnHead-GarryNohrThis month, some of the Sunshine Coast regional directors attended a UBCM workshop in Vancouver, which included sessions on communicating with constituents in today’s social media culture. These workshops addressed the challenge that elected officials now face in dealing with bullying and negative comments, all the while trying to be positive in their efforts to follow the required processes for resolutions, projects, new bylaws, and public hearings. Constant negativity and outright attacks are why some elected officials are resigning early in their terms. Many feel that they did not put their name forward to run for local government to then be accused of taking bribes, exercising bias, and supporting one group over another. Such accusations are not new, but more prevalent now that constituents can immediately e-mail, text, or phone to express their concerns, many times without researching the facts. This has become a major problem, as constituents increasingly fail to be civil and, instead, resort to negative personal comments.

Another reason for people leaving is not initially understanding the demands imposed by the role of councillor/director: many hours of reviewing bylaws, reading reports, and organizing public hearings, as well as attending and participating in scheduled council/board meetings. New councillors/directors often feel lost, as they do not receive effective training as elected officials when they start. Local governments are now proposing that there should be training sessions for all elected officials at the outset of each term.

A further, important issue is the remuneration of councillors and directors. Many of those elected do not have the ability to attend all meetings, as they have to maintain other employment. With most local governments the remuneration of elected officials is not at a level that allows most singles or people with young families to put their names forward. The economic challenge for some elected officials is exacerbated by the new four-year term, which is causing some to leave because it is too long a time to juggle family, work, and political obligations.

Still other factors may further erode the commitment of elected officials and cause them to resign. Some, for example, are troubled by council/board disruptions, which typically occur when one or more members do not work cooperatively with the rest. Other elected officials have ongoing frustration that local government does not move as quickly as they would like. Because local government has many different requirements before a project goes forward, the democratic process can be intolerably slow for some.

The remedy for many of the discontents of elected officials lies in the direction of streamlining local government procedures, in order to create greater opportunities and success for those who want to participate in the democratic process.

Please contact me at 604-741-2427 or e-mail me at garry.nohr@scrd.ca if you wish to discuss SCRD programs or plans.

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