In some companies and organizations, there’s a requirement for anyone who travels to write up a report upon returning and share the information he or she gathered.
That makes sense and it’s something that should be mandatory for City councillors.
Not all councillors can make it to each and every conference, nor should they all go. It’s enough to have solid representation without everyone piling in and doubling up on meetings and sessions and dinner speeches.
But those who don’t go should still benefit from those who do. Sharing information should be a big part of attending any conference. They’re not there to learn for their own benefit, nor are they there to load up on sessions just because they’re personally interested. They’re there to learn for the benefit of the taxpayers and council.
And while they’re at it, they should be passing on information and ideas to City staff, too.
Each council member gets $5,000 a year to cover travel expenses. Typically, they attend the Federation of Canadian Municipalities conference in spring and the Union of B.C. Municipalities in fall. Some take in extras or trade off, others have obligations — like Marg Spina, who sits on the Southern Interior Local Government Association.
International travel for trips such as those to sister city Uji, Japan, are not included in that $5,000.
Some councillors have work obligations and can’t attend all the conferences either.
Those who do go should expect to sit down at a keyboard and pound out some of the relevant data, ideas and discussion points that they heard during their conference days.
Some councillors already do this, or at least give verbal reports, if not written. Others do not, but simply say the conferences are valuable learning experiences and they learned a lot.
I say, show us what you learned.
Think of it as showing off the holiday slide show so family and friends can enjoy your experience.
Councillors’ reports don’t have to be as off-putting as Aunt Martha cavorting in the waves in her frilly-skirted one-piece, but they should be required.
Taxpayers should expect all their municipal representatives to be in the loop and to share their knowledge.
Individually, they already have specialized knowledge. For example, no one knows sewerage like Ken Christian, who spent decades dealing with environmental health issues. He has also picked up a background in education with his years on the school board.
Or Pat Wallace, who knows everyone and if there’s someone she doesn’t know, she knows someone who does. She has a political network that’s the envy of every newcomer seeking any level of elected office.
But when it comes to conferences, the more brains that mull over the ideas and information, the better.
A former mayor who is also a former newspaper editor used to say that conference trips are a lot of work, but they are fun, too.
It’s OK for council members to enjoy their jobs. In fact, they should — it makes them more passionate about what they’re doing.
They still need to be accountable.
And part of that accountability is showing us the benefits of their conference spending.