This chart collects attendance records for members of city council dating back to the start of 2012. Regular council meetings are in the top row, arranged chronologically with the most recent meeting at the right. Red marks an absence. Councillors are also required to sit on a number of city committees — the number of committee meetings they have attended in that period is indicated in dark purple, with absences given in light purple. (GRANT HAMILTON/BRANDON SUN)
Being a member of Brandon City Council takes a lot more than just showing up to meetings every two weeks.
Councillors are required to attend special meetings, often held before the regular meeting or over the noon hour. Plus each member is appointed to various committees and boards.
DATA BY COMMITTEEThe Brandon Sun collected data from the following committees over 2012-13:Audit & FinanceBrandon Urban Aboriginal Peoples'Brandon & Area Planning DistrictRenaissance BrandonBrandon Municipal Heritage AdvisoryKeystone Agricultural & Recreational CentrePersonnelPovertyWestern Manitoba Centennial AuditoriumWestern Manitoba Regional LibraryData was not available for:Brandon General Museum & ArchivesJoint Task Force (City of Brandon & Brandon School Division)Grants Review committeeBuilding Standards and Taxi Appeal committees have not met in the past few years.A list of all committees and boards can be found online at brandon.ca.»Brandon Sun
"It’s an expectation, because definitely there’s a commitment by the city to have members of council on certain boards and committees," said city clerk Con Arvisais. "There’s an effort to try to divvy up those responsibilities so that everybody picks up a fair share of the responsibilities."
On average, councillors sit on three or four committees.
"People see council members sit at council meetings once every two weeks, but there’s so many committees and those committees have sub-committees … it’s pretty heavy for these members of council," Arvisais said.
Some of those committees, including taxi appeal and building standards only meet if there is an appeal made. According to the city clerk’s office, neither of those committees have met in the last few years.
In 2012, there were 21 regular and special council meetings. Mayor Shari Decter Hirst and Coun. Stephen Montague (Richmond) had perfect attendance, while most other members just had one absence. Coun. Corey Roberts (Rosser) missed two meetings in 2012 and councillors Jim McCrae (Meadows) and Jeff Harwood (University) both missed three. Some absences were due to illness.
Of the first five meetings of 2013, councillors Jan Chaboyer (Green Acres), Len Isleifson (Riverview), Roberts and Montague have missed one. Harwood has missed two, due to an extended holiday that was approved by council.
The Brandon Sun gathered attendance figures from 10 committees for 2012 and thus far into 2013.
There was much variation in the number of meetings each councillor was required to attend. Decter Hirst hasn’t missed a council meeting in 2012-13 and has only been absent from six of 31 committee meetings. Isleifson has had two absences from 21 committee meetings.
Montague is currently only on one committee — Western Manitoba Regional Library. He was previously on the Audit and Finance committee, as well as the Brandon Urban Aboriginal People’s Council, but had to step down due to clashes with his full-time work schedule. He has missed five out of 10 library meetings.
Montague has a day job as a financial services manager and said it’s sometimes a challenge to juggle the job with council responsibilities.
"With some of the boards … their meeting times don’t necessarily fit well with holding a full-time day job," he said.
"It makes it difficult … if they’re unwilling to move the meeting time. It means you miss out and then you’re not able to be there, or it forces you to leave committees like I’ve had to do."
In addition to council meetings and committee meetings, councillors often are attending community events, meeting with constituents and reading up on material to be prepared for a future debate.
"You want to be informed when we’re at the table to debate issues," Montague said. "You have your responsibilities to constituents. Their concerns don’t take a break from nine to five when you’re at work, so you have to balance that, and you want to be available for them … I’ve been fortunate to have employers that are very understanding and support me being active in the community, but that said, that’s my day job and that’s what pays the bills."
Montague said despite the challenges, being a city councillor is a job that he truly enjoys.
"You know what you’re getting into when you run for a position like this and it’s one of those sacrifices you make to do something you love," he said.
Coun. Garth Rice (South Centre) has been absent from three of 21 committee meetings. Coun. Shawn Berry (Linden Lanes) has one absence of 14 committee meetings.
Coun. Jeff Fawcett (Assiniboine) had five absences from 20 committee meetings, while Roberts had 13 absences from 44 meetings. Coun. Murray Blight (Victoria) attended all three committee meetings.
Mayor Shari Decter Hirst said being the mayor of Brandon is a 24-7 job.
"I’m the mayor when I’m at the airport in Calgary and run into a resident, when I’m … at Safeway getting my groceries, when I’m walking to work and come across a group of kids heading off to school in the morning," she said. "I’m never not the mayor."
Decter Hirst said being on city council can have a tremendous toll on family life.
"We have councillors who have small children and I have no idea how they do it," she said. "Being very active councillors and working full-time and having a family life, means that you’re always being pulled in three different directions."
Decter Hirst said it can be "a bit of a shock on how consuming councillor responsibilities will be."
"I think it’s a huge disservice to think the responsibilities are two meetings a month," she said. "I know we’ve got councillors who are very engaged in their wards and frankly, I know we have councillors who place less emphasis on their ward responsibilities and more emphasis on their role as a councillor for the city."
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition March 9, 2013