A group of people gathered on September 13 to learn and talk with former mayor Christina Benty about how town council candidates can best serve the community.
Part of how candidates can best serve the community comes from what the community expects from them. Town council is elected every four years to determine action for core services and guide the community to being a great place to live, work, and play.
“Council’s job is to set policy, strategic direction through resolutions and bylaws, and then get out of the way and let staff do their job,” Benty bluntly explained. “The CAO’s job is to translate the policy direction, and staff’s job is to operationalize it.”
Throughout their four years on town council, the candidates will have a lot of reading to do, budgeting, and deciding how to maintain or improve infrastructure.
“Local government exists to provide, at the core level, transportation, utilities, I want to turn on my water and I want it to come out of the tap every time. I want to flush my toilet, and I want it to disappear every time. I want to run on trails that aren’t overgrown, I want to put my garbage and recycling out, and I want it to disappear. I want nice signs, I want attractive public spaces, I want recreational facilities, and arts, and culture,” Benty said about the priorities of council. “That’s the kind of community I want to live in, and I want those services to exist under the radar. Safe, secure, predictable, cost-effective, seamless service; I don’t want to think about it.”
The local government has legislative tools they can use to deal with issues in the community, like bylaws and incentive programs to encourage people to make changes to their own lives or property. But, many of these changes are driven by complaints from the community. One of the best ways to make a complaint to town council, Benty said, is to write it in a letter and provide it to council. In order for council to make changes, there needs to be enough commentary from the community to direct them to do so.
“Someone who stands up and says I want to be on council, and I want to do this… It’s kind of difficult to come in guns blazing thinking you’re actually going to be able to affect a whole bunch of change,” said Kicking Horse Country Chamber of Commerce president Magi Scallion.
Some of the important things for candidates to focus on can also be the most common day-to-day things the community doesn’t necessarily think about on a regular basis.
“How important is water, how important is sewer, how important are roads, sidewalks, snow clearing, flowers, signs, trails, recreational facilities, land use planning, emergency planning, having a trained fire department show up if you’re house is burning down, how important are those things, and what do you think the cost to provide those is?” Benty asked. “Let’s get real. That’s the conversation.”
Town council keeps track of all of these things and more, like deciding on replacing roads, and if the sidewalks will be any different, and what are the costs involved, and providing levels of service and their costs, and the cost recovery of services. Council sets the budget and the long-term financial plan in order to deal with all of these things. From there, council directs the staff in how to implement improvements and services.