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Municipal Governance - Marie 4 Mayor Airdrie Alberta

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Municipal Governance 101

While campaigning to be the next Mayor of Airdrie, I have met a diverse group of people. Not surprisingly, some of the people I met didn’t understand municipal politics in Alberta. Research has shown that a better understanding of politics and the issues leads to higher voter turnout. This blog, Municipal Governance 101, is dedicated to those individuals who want to be informed and engaged in their community.

A city is one category of an urban municipality.  Municipal government is the government closest to the people. As such, municipalities are essential to creating healthy, sustainable communities. “Municipalities are the places where Albertans build their families, their careers and their homes. It’s where people access the programs, facilities and services they need to live their lives and contribute to the economic prosperity of their community, province and country. Municipalities champion the well-being of their citizens and create opportunities for residents to contribute to decisions about the local issues that matter to them.” (Understanding Alberta’s Municipal Governments. (2015). Retrieved from www.auma.ca)

Municipal governments are produced by provincial legislation, which assigns them certain duties and responsibilities. This is done through the Municipal Government Act, which states that the purposes of a municipality are to:

  • provide good government.
  • provide services, facilities or other things that, in the opinion of council, are necessary or desirable for all or a part of the municipality.
  • develop safe and viable communities.

The Municipal Government Act has 3 main areas:  a) planning and development, b) governance and administration and c) assessment and taxation. Within each of these areas, there are several responsibilities, services and programs that municipalities develop and implement, such as drinking water, garbage collection and recycling, police and emergency services, land use planning and development, economic development, maintenance and upgrading of streets, affordable housing, recreation and culture. (Understanding Alberta’s Municipal Governments. (2015). Retrieved from www.auma.ca)

Airdrie City Council consists of 7 members; 6 are part time Councillors and one is full time – the Mayor (also known as the Chief Elected Official).  Council members are elected every four years in October.  The elections are the result of a democratic process; all eligible voters have a voice in determining who the members of City Council will be.  Each member of Council is responsible for representing the people who have elected them to serve the needs of the municipality as a whole (rather than of special interest groups).  Members of Council in Airdrie are elected at large rather than from specific wards (based on geographical areas).

Interesting Fact: In the 2013 election, only 17.75% of the eligible voting public voted.

Under the Municipal Government Act, councillors have the following duties:

  • To consider the welfare and interests of the municipality as a whole and, to bring to Council’s attention anything that would promote the welfare or interests of the municipality.
  • To participate generally in developing and evaluating the policies and programs of the municipality.
  • To participate in Council meetings and Council committee meetings and meetings of other bodies to which they are appointed by the Council.
  • To obtain information about the operation or administration of the municipality from the Chief Administrative Officer (City Manager)
  • To keep in confidence matters discussed in private at a Council meeting until discussed at a meeting held in public
  • To perform any other duty or function imposed on Councillors by this or any other enactment or by the Council. (municipalaffairs.alberta.ca)

The Municipal Government Act also outlines the Mayor’s role. In addition to performing a Councillor’s duties (see above), the Mayor also chairs Council meetings. The Mayor is also generally the main spokesperson for the municipality.

A Councillor’s role is to work with other Council members to develop and implement the policies that guide the overall direction of the municipality and how it is run.  The policies that Council adopts serve as guidelines for administration to follow as it operates the municipality.  Staying out of the day-to-day operation of the municipality allows Councillors to concentrate on policy making and program monitoring. Councillors should work with the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) to keep informed on what the municipality is doing and they will depend on administration to provide information so that they can make sound decisions. (www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca)

City Councils are also responsible for creating and managing the position of a Chief Administrative Officer (also known as City Manager), who serves as the administrative leader of the municipality (in a municipal organization, staff are referred to as administration). This position focuses on the day-to-day operations of the municipality and allows City Council to focus on policymaking, and the strategic direction of the municipality. Another important role of City Council is to advocate on behalf of the community for services provided by other levels of government, such as education and health services.  (www.municipalaffairs.alberta.ca)