Take a deep breath. The euphoria will pass quickly. The work, however, is about to begin. Your life is about to change dramatically. Your phone will ring constantly. You will be invited to many meetings and functions. You will meet many new people. Many requests and demands will come your way.
Many people who get elected to public office don’t know much about the duties and responsibilities of elected office. Make sure you’re not one of those!
Here are some tips for you:
1. Manage your time wisely.
- Look after your family first. Make absolutely certain that you do not neglect your family during what will be a very busy time. Include them in your elected activities when you can. Block off adequate time to maintain a healthy family life.
- Allocate the time to spend on matters related to your elected office. You will have to do this wisely. Avoid making commitments you will not be able to keep. You can get into big trouble if you don’t turn up or produce after committing to do so. You will need to be well organized with your time so you can deal with the many issues that come to your attention.
2. Educate yourself on people and processes.
Meet with others who were elected. Plan to work collectively to achieve your particular goals. Meet with the senior employees of the various government departments you will be dealing with. Get apprised regarding the main current and future issues facing the municipality.
3. Choose Committees that matter most to you.
There are usually various Committees composed of Councillors and municipal staff. These Committees review specific issues and make recommendations to Council as a whole – i.e., Finance Committee, Planning Committee, etc. The Mayor typically appoints Councillors to these Committees. Meet with the Mayor. Express your interest as to which Committees you wish to be involved in. Demonstrate your capacity to participate in these committees. Stake your ground. There is frequently a lot of negotiation that is happening at this time. This is an important time. Stay involved.
4. Learn to work as a team with other elected people.
You can achieve but very little on your own. So, get to know other elected people from other groups, and build a reputation for sound judgment and integrity. Often, someone will ask for your support on an issue, and you may end up negotiating with them for your support. ‘Political debts’ may be created along the way. When you are successful in accomplishing something, be gracious. Publicly acknowledge the support of others who assisted you. You will need it the next time you want their support. This is an important part of staying elected: building relationships with, and gaining the support and trust of your fellow elected colleagues.
5. Stay in touch with your community. Be a leader who listens and delivers.
- You likely have a cadre of people who worked hard to help you get elected. Stay in touch with them, now and throughout. Remember that you will be seeking their assistance again at the end of your term. Keep them informed. On contentious issues, get the opinions and thoughts of your supporters.
- Establish a dialogue with key community leaders. Similarly, keep them informed about current and upcoming issues.
- Keep your ear to the ground and follow through. Take note of new emerging issues. Take the lead. Bring new issues up in Council if necessary. If there are problems, get them resolved. If there are activities that will benefit the community, strongly support them. Obtain funding from various sources if necessary to make ideas, plans and programs happen. For example, you can be the leader to approach other levels of government, foundations, and other organizations to obtain funding to support programs that will benefit the municipality. Be a leader who promotes the right activities and delivers the goods.