Two former councillors with nearly a half-century of public service between them encouraged a small group of Jasperites toying with the idea of running for municipal office to take the plunge—so long as they’re doing it for the right reasons.
“You’re there to serve the whole community,” said Brenda Zinck, who, before sitting as a municipal councillor for 12 years, was a member of the Jasper Improvement District Committee. “If you’re running with a personal agenda, that’s not forward thinking.”
When you have residents’ common interests in mind, however, occupying a seat on municipal council is an honour, said former school board member and councillor, Gloria Kongsrud.
“I can’t think of anything in life that could be better than serving the community,” she said.
Zinck and Kongsrud were special guests of an information session hosted by the Municipality of Jasper. During the two hour meeting, municipal staff prepared potential candidates for the workload, scope of responsibility, decision making protocol and personal sacrifices which comes with the territory of municipal politics.
Zinck and Kongsrud admitted certain issues got emotional. At times Kongsrud felt like a sitting duck for residents’ pot shots.
“I remember times going home and sitting on the edge of the bed and crying,” Kongsrud said. “But my skin toughened over the years.”
Zinck also recalled hard decisions that affected her friendships.
“We are friends and neighbours and we had huge differences of opinion,” she said. “It’s hard for people to come in when they’re talking about their kids or their pets and not get emotional.”
Far and away, however, the job was gratifying. Zinck said she only needs to look around the community to see the work council accomplished over the years.
Communications Manager Christine Nadon told the group the evening’s purpose was to promote local interest in running for office.
“We want to ensure we get as many candidates as possible,” she said.
Nomination Day is September 18. Candidates must file their nomination papers between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. Nomination forms can be obtained at the municipal administration office (303 Pyramid Lake Road).
The race for town council is nearly upon us. It’s an exciting time, and once those Jasperites who think they’re cut out for public office throw their hats into the ring, the political promises and campaign commitments are sure to follow.
In a small town like Jasper, election season is when most folks who normally couldn’t care less about the minutia of local government all of a sudden have opinions to sling and bones to pick. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but there is a danger of a municipal election turning into a popularity contest rather than a healthy, democratic exercise wherein constituents select the folks they think will best represent their values, concerns and hopes.
What we at The Jasper Local are hoping for on September 18 is a slate of nominees that represents the diverse make-up of this community. Imagine if we saw a cast of candidates that variously spoke for our francophone community, local women in business, young entrepreneurs, Jasper’s Filipino families, people with disabilities, the LGBTQ crowd, renters, seniors and immigrants, to take a few examples. No offence to the white, male, home-owning baby boomers among us, but you guys have had your time in the sun. There are a wider range of voices that deserve a seat at the table.
Of course that can’t happen if there’s no one coming up the backstretch. A lack of time to give holds many people of diverse social groups from considering public service. Career demands and family commitments are intensified when the career and family in question are young.
But in some respects, a community is like a career—and even like a family. What one puts into it, one will get back. Councillors will tell you that although the meetings are long and the pressure can be acute, the rewards of moving their community forward are genuine.
While The Jasper Local wants to gently prod Jasperites of all stripes to consider running for office, we also want to remind whomever is elected—old white guys included—that they’ll best serve the community by bringing residents together.
That means accommodating a diverse set of interests.
This October 16, let’s think about our common goals while ensuring our community’s diversity is represented.