What Do Councillors Do Anyway?

November 20, 2008

It’s a question often asked — and a good one that deserves an answer.  This week, the Governance and Economic Development committee considered a report on Full-time vs. Part-time Councillors.  The report compares other Ontario municipalities and the bottom line is that all of them are very different.  Burlington (population 151,000) is the closest municipality in size to Guelph with full-time councillors.  Burlington is also part of an regional (upper-tier) municipality, which is different than Guelph.

The G & ED Committee is NOT recommending a move to full-time councillors.  I agree.  I believe we do not yet have a population that warrants full-time councillors.  If we had full-time councillors, we would not need 12 of them, which means fewer voices around the table.  And finally, if councillors were full-time it would limit the pool of candidates to those who are retired, independently wealthy or willing to give up another job and income for a minimum of four years.   I think the committe made the right decision.

That being said, what is expected of a part-time councillor?  Are part-time councillors considered 0.3 (of a full-time equivalent or FTE) or 0.5 or 0.7?  There is no definitive answer to that question.  In our current council, some have outside full-time jobs on top of their role as city councillors.  Others are retired, self-employed or have taken a leave from other work.

What do councillors do?  The list below is an attempt to answer that question using a typical week workload.  I have also added an approximate range of how many hours (per week) each activity involves.  The answers are from my own perspective and experience only.

  • Attend Council meetings, including in-camera (3-5 hours)
  • Attend Standing committee meetings (3-5 hours * I am on two standing committees)
  • Read materials, reports, studies, data, agendas, minutes, etc. to prepare for each meeting (3-5 hours)
  • Prepare for and attend appointed outside advisory committees and boards (6-8 hours)  * I sit on Family and Children’s Services, Heritage Guelph, Career Education Council and MacDonald Stewart Art Centre.
  • Attend public events ie. ribbon cuttings, flag raising, meet and greets (2 – 10 hours per week, varies)
  • Attend public consultation meetings and open house (ie. planning meetings, neighbourhood groups) (0-8 hours)
  • Community Outreach (town halls, coffee chats, Rogers TV, speaking requests)  (0-8 hours, varies)  * Last week, I was a guest on Politically Speaking, attended a neighbourhood mtg re: student housing and attended the launch of the Great Tree Hunt = 5.5 hours)
  • Constituency inquiries – answer phone calls and emails (2-4 hours)
  • Other (reading material on municipal governance, research, staying informed on issues across Canada, etc.)  (0-4 hours)
  • Council workshops – ie. budget “season”, governance and professional development workshops, etc. (0-5 hours)

That’s all I  can think of for now….I hope this is helpful in understanding the “typical week-in-the-life” of a city councillor.