By Trevor Busch
Taking on a role in the public sphere can often be a daunting prospect for citizens of a community, but one that can often carry with it a renewed sense of fulfillment and achievement in making contributions to the political decision-making process.
While municipal boards and commissions are often integral in providing input to our political representatives as well as shouldering some of the town’s responsibilities in various areas, finding candidates willing to take on various roles is sometimes easier said than done.
“People have ideas, and the more ideas that come forward, the better decision you can make,” said Mayor Henk DeVlieger. “That’s why I like to see the younger generation, too, because they have totally different views on things, and come up with new ideas, and that’s what I like to see, otherwise you’re so stuck in your own place. The more input the better, because then we can make a more balanced decision in council, too.”
The Town of Taber is currently seeking one resident to serve on the Municipal Library Board, another to serve on the Municipal Planning Commission, one resident for the Performing Arts Centre Committee, one resident for the Taber Municipal Police Commission, and an undisclosed number of residents for the Combative Sports Commission.
“For the police commission, we have had a few,” said CAO Greg Birch. “The process for the police commission is a little more rigourous. You have to go get a police check as part of the process before you can essentially put your name forward to council. So there’s some vetting there that there wouldn’t be for the library board, or other boards. It’s definitely true that we have a harder time recruiting people for some boards than others. We are really interested in having people put their names forward.”
DeVlieger pointed out that having a full compliment of citizens to serve on town boards and commissions only enhances council’s grasp of the needs and wants of the citizenry.
“Volunteerism is still the backbone of Taber. We have a lot of committees, and they do a lot of good work, and by being on these committees we find out from the community what lives. That’s why we want to have community based committees to get as much as possible participation to find out what the people want.”
Accessing a cross-section of the community’s viewpoint on various issues can be a vital tool for achieving good governance, according to Birch.
“For good, successful communities, my personal belief is that you want to have a variety of input from a large number of citizens. In other words, you want public participation. That comes in many forms, open houses, public meetings, but it also comes in the form of people sitting on committees. By sitting on committees, you get real, practical, local insight into decision making. To me, I think that’s good governance.”
Many individuals may consider themselves unqualified for certain positions, or that they might be better filled by others with more experience, a perception that in many cases simply isn’t true.
“They learn things about how a municipality operates, and how decisions are actually made. They certainly have a real influence, on almost any of the boards. These boards are making decisions that are important. They all play an important part in making the community work. If anyone is interested in moving into politics in a bigger way — the municipal election is next year — it’s an excellent way for them to gain insight into how municipalities operate,” said Birch.
Although virtually any resident is eligible for positions on town boards and commissions, DeVlieger would like to see an increased youth presence at this level of town operations.
“I also would like to see that the younger generation starts to participate a little more in that. When you look at all the volunteers, it’s getting up there in age, so if there is a way that we can start drawing from the 20-30-40 year age group, that would be a good idea. I try sometimes to approach people personally, because that’s the only way you can get it done is to solicit that way. I think it takes a lot of encouragement for some people to take that step.”
At its most basic, individuals who volunteer for these roles are giving back to the community, but speaking from experience, DeVlieger noted this service can also have the dual benefit of giving something back to the volunteers.
“I think so. It fulfilled me. I’ve been on the police commission, I’ve been on the Subdivision and Development Appeal Board, on the economic development committee. It always gave me a sense of fulfillment, the feeling that I can participate and help to steer the community in what I think is the right direction.”
Interested applicants can pick up an application at the town administrative offices, or it can be downloaded from the town’s website at http://www.taber.ca/DocumentCenter/View/581. Further information can be obtained by contacting administrative services manager Kerry Van Ham at 403-223-5519. Be prepared to provide justification for your interest, and references for the application process.