Wanting to run for civic office is one thing, but actually working with it once you’re in is a whole other idea.
That was the overarching message given by former civic officials to an audience of more than 50 people at Echo Centre’s Dogwood Room on Wednesday night.
The event was co-hosted by the City of Port Alberni and the Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District. The purpose of the meeting was to give potential candidates in this fall’s election a practical lay-of-the-land of civic politics.
A key part of the evening was presentations given by former civic officials Donna Brett, Gary Swann and Lyle Price.
Any notion that civic office is a lightweight venture should be dispensed, said former ACRD director Gary Swann.
Agenda packages can be more than 200 pages thick and require a lot of reading and dissemination, he said.
Council meetings, committee meetings and other meetings —some of which require travel—should be prepared for.
Civic office can be internally fulfilling but oftentimes at an external cost. Some employers aren’t understanding about time off to serve in civic office. Nevertheless, candidates should be prepared to parlay for time off.
And those costs can be higher if you are a business owner, Price said. “And it costs you more if you are self-employed – it takes a lot more time to run a jurisdiction that you think.”
Responding to a question about city daytime meetings, Brett and Price agreed that it’s harder to get away from work to attend them, and that public attendance is sparse.
An audience member asked candidates about business the public sees done and the business done behind closed doors.
Brett didn’t deny some business was done in camera but that it must be taken in context. “When I was in office only land, labour and law were discussed in camera and I don’t think that’s changed,” she said.
Talking about a land sale publicly could potentially drive the price up, and employee matters would never be discussed publicly, Brett added.
If you want to know the lay of the land then get out on the land. “Go to meetings and be seen to get a sense of what you’ll be involved with,” Brett said.
The meeting was a good real life lesson, said audience member Myron Jespersen, who says he’s thinking about running for office.
“They brought a healthy dose of realism about public office,” he said.
The session stood out for different reasons. “They didn’t try to sugar coat anything but at the same time I got the sense that they all enjoyed their time in office,” Jespersen said.
The election is a second go-round for Alice Schoffer, who ran for city council in the last election.
“I want to make a difference, I feel I can be a voice so I’m going to give this another try,” said Schoffer, who is running independently.
Even though she’s been through one election there’s still something to be learned at workshops like this one.
“You can never think that you know, because you find out you don’t,” she said.