Municipal Government: GET ON BOARDS
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AbstractWe often wonder how the immense machine of government works. The municipal level of government, whether it is urban (such as a town or city) or rural (municipal district and council), is said to be the "closest to the people". It deals with matters such as parks, utilities (water, electricity, and sewers), the police, garbage collection, fire and ambulance services, traffic and parking, public health, signage, noise, business licensing, sports and recreational facilities, local elections, road building and maintenance, libraries, plant and animal control, public transportation, the arts, and even some social services. There is legislation for each of these subject matters. Public and Roman Catholic schools are operated by local school boards and regional health authorities are governed locally. All of these important domains in our daily lives are delegated by the province to the municipality to manage. Administrators and boards may be under a legal duty to render certain decisions, but they more typically enjoy generous discretion in determining, for example, whether an applicant receives a licence. They must decide within the law, and they normally treat similar cases in similar ways, following objective and public criteria. Dealing with many cases, they are specialists in that subject area. Even the courts will defer to the expertise of administrative boards to make these decisions. These boards complete an integrated administrative structure that is effective and inexpensive to deal with the practical business of the municipality. Across Canada, each year positions open up on municipal appeal and policymaking boards. Almost always these are unpaid, volunteer appointments for a year and one's appointment is usually renewable at the end of the year. Elected members of the municipal council make the public-member appointments to the boards. They look for a representative membership from the community in terms of backgrounds. Most members are not lawyers. Sometimes experience or qualifications in a field are sought - such as in the local tourism board where marketing skills are valuable - however, most boards do not require any particular training or preparation. As useful as technical expertise is, one's ability to fairly decide a case on its merits while balancing the public and private interests involved is the key element for citizen appointees.
Article deposited after permission was granted by the editor of LawNow Magazine, 06/28/2010.