If You’re Not Sure if You’ll Be Running for Office Again, Don’t Apply to Go to Conferences

AC_2014_banner_microsite_ENA short while ago, there was some discussion at city council about the current manner in which conference fees are allocated to council members as well as some proposals to do things differently.

You’ll have to skip down to the end of the post to see my own overall suggestions.

The way that I think it works now: Line item amounts are set aside by council during the budget process; council members submit a request to their colleagues to attend/pay for conferences, workshops etc. and then council votes to approve those applications.

It all works fine until the budget is used up or until there are competing claims on those funds. At that point, the issue seems to be how to then distinguish between those requests. In the decision to fund councillors to attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Niagara Falls in late May, the final decision appears to have been based on when councillors first indicated (not officially requested) that they were interested in attending.

That brought up suggestions by Councillors Harrison and Jamieson that perhaps council should adopt a process similar to what the school district uses. See Council explores professional development options (Labere: Jan 30 2014). Members would each be allocated their own annual budget for conferences and workshops etc. The individual politicos would manage their own professional development by deciding when, where and what they might attend. Official approval from council could still be a part of the process.

In many cases, one might need to “save” up over a few budget cycles to afford to attend a more costly conference.

There is merit in considering a hybrid approach to these matters. Set up a system of annual individual allocations, budget for the mayor and one councillor (rotating annually) to attend the important annual UBCM provincial conference out of a general account and set aside reasonable amounts for key inservice (critical issues, boot camp for new councillor members,  etc). Now this is what happens now but the parameters would be clearer.

For the record, I have no gripe about the importance of in-service and fully support attendance at key conferences and relevant workshops.

Here’s what I do have an issue with.

From the Observer article Councillors to head east for conference (Labere: Feb 6 2014)

This year, two city councillors will be making use of the $7,000 budgeted for them to attend a four-day Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in Niagara Falls.

Couns. Chad Eliason and Debbie Cannon were selected to attend the May 30 to June 2 event. Though the city budgets annually for two councillors to attend FCM ($3,500 per person for 2014), this will be the first time in three years that anyone from the city has opted to attend.

I don’t think that council should be allocating considerable in-service dollars for a major conference back east six months before our local elections – especially when the two councillors who are slated to go also indicated around that same time that they were unsure about their political futures involving the November election.

Our previous mayor Marty Bootsma attended a FCM conference in Halifax in 2011 but didn’t run in the next local election election just a few months later on.

I don’t see this in any way as being any sort of  bang for the city’s buck.

My proposal in a nutshell – offered as a free in-service:

  • Establish personal professional development allocations
  • Have general but clearly targeted funds for specific conferences
  • At a minimum, No approval for attending conferences in an election year if there is no stated commitment to actually running again – at the time of application … and a reimbursement of the funds if a council member subsequently decides not to run again
  • … Or perhaps even more radical: Consider not funding any discretionary conferences heading into any election year. After all, who knows who will get voted in again … or not?

This isn’t intended to diparage the two councillors involved in this go round as this appears to be the way that council has approached things previously.

I think that this regular way of doing business can indeed be improved.

Your thoughts that are currently in service?

Author: Tim Lavery

Aim High Salmon Arm It matters

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