Sharon Ellis was first elected to the City of Whitehorse in 2003 and stood again in 2012, when she was re-elected for the fourth time. She can still remember what it was like at first.
“After 10 years I’m still learning, but the curve is no longer as steep.
When I look back on the comments I made during my first term (below) , they could have been written yesterday! Councillors have come and gone, Governments have changed , issues have been resolved, new ones have arisen,” Sharon says, reflecting on her time as a councillor.
“The councillor’s role can be all consuming if you want to effectively serve your electorate. We have all heard of councillors attending a couple of statutory meetings a month, but this is not enough to effectively represent your community.
A councillor’s job is certainly not like any 9 to 5 weekday job. To do it well requires you to be flexible on weekends and evenings, and prepared to catch up with your emails and reading at odd hours. There is no statutory requirement to put in a certain number of hours but it is vital that you are part of the community you represent. If you have a partner, it is important they are supportive and self sufficient, particularly in the culinary field.
Your municipality is comprised of a diverse range of people, interests and activities. To be an effective councillor you need to have a broad range of interests and a willingness to move outside your ‘comfort zone’.
You will be invited to attend community functions for groups of which you have little knowledge and possibly even less interest. If you gravitate towards groups that you identify with you will be missing out on some wonderful experiences and the chance to broaden your knowledge.
It is also important to establish a good working relationship with council officers and take advantage of their expertise. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or seek information and don’t be intimidated by their depth of knowledge.
Get to know your fellow councillors – their backgrounds, interests and areas of expertise. Seek their advice and ask for their support. Accept and respect each councillor’s individuality – a diverse council provides a much stronger representation. In an ideal world you should be pooling all your resources to ensure your residents have the best possible representation.
It is important to be aware of a councillor’s enormous responsibilities – looking after an annual budget often in excess of $100 million and making decisions for over 100,000 residents. It is not the forum for resolving a single local issue but for providing good governance to a whole municipality on a wide range of issues.
To be an effective councillor requires a great deal of time, commitment and enthusiasm. It can be a thankless task at times. But it can also be a most rewarding experience.”