June 18th, 2024

Municipal Matters: Local government primer

By Ann Mitchell on June 6, 2024.

It is often said that local government is the government closest to the people. The majority of revenue that gives municipalities the ability to provide services comes from property taxes. Each province in Canada sets legislation that governs municipalities, in Alberta it is the Municipal Government Act. The MGA states that municipalities in Alberta:

– Provide good governance;

– Provide services that are necessary for citizens;

– Develop and maintain safe and viable communities;

– Collaborate with neighbouring municipalities; and

– Foster environmental stewardship.

These definitions are extremely broad, and it is up to each municipal council to set the strategic vision for their community. Municipal councils are held to a high standard of ethics both publicly and privately. The MGA states that every member of council must abide by their code of conduct.

Here are some high-level guidelines that members of municipal council should follow:

– Following procedures is critical, as council members are meant to represent the positions and interests of the public and the people who voted for them.

– Giving the public the opportunity to participate in meetings and the decision-making process ensures that council knows what the public wants and is being held accountable to acting in the public’s interests.

– Members must address each other, administration and the public professionally and respectfully to show that they take their responsibilities seriously. This ensures the public has confidence in the members’ ability to accurately represent them and their interests.

Council sets the vision for the community and administration, led by the city manager or chief administrative officer, who implements this vision. The challenge of role clarity is one that continues to plague local government, and the lack of that clarity between politicians and administration can be detrimental to the overall organization as well as the community it serves.

(Next column will address the unique relationship between the municipal council and their one employee the city manager.)

Ann Mitchell is the city manager for the City of Medicine Hat

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