Wednesday night I returned home from another 6.5-hour-long council meeting and began to ponder what citizens should look for in their elected officials. It seems we elect candidates based on qualities that are not always relevant to the job.
At most, we choose who to vote for based on what candidates say in their practiced two-minute speeches, carefully written statements, and how the candidate comes across at a public event; at least, we choose based on who has the best sign or newspaper ads.
Unless you know what the job entails—what we really do—there’s no way you can choose members of your future council or legislature or parliament with conviction.
Over this four-year term, I’ll add to this list of skills and abilities you should look for in a political candidate, local or otherwise, based on my experience behind the council table.
Here are the first two…
Your elected official needs to be able to listen.
I’m not just talking about being able to listen to an irate citizen rant about their sidewalk not being fixed in nine years, though that is a fine and important skill. I’m talking about being able to sit and listen to hours and hours—and hours—of presentations. In the past three months, I have been subjected to no fewer than 35 presentations, most delivered via PowerPoint, most taking more than 15 minutes, some lasting over an hour, none of which required action from me. The human brain can withstand receiving only so much passive information before it shuts down and starts thinking about snack time.
A note to delegates presenting at council: Make us participate! If you involve us in the discussion in any form—even if you ask us our shoe size—we are more likely to pay attention because the bar for engaging presentations is that low.
Your elected official needs to be able to read.
Reading comprehension is the second most-required skill for an elected official. Each meeting agenda has attached to it all relevant historical and new reporting for each topic to inform the councillors as much as possible before they make a decision. This is the good news.
The bad news is we have pages and pages—and pages—of reports to read, understand and synthesize in a short amount of time before each council and committee meeting. If you skim, you’re screwed because you can guarantee you will miss the one fact you should have read more carefully before making an uninformed decision in public.
Better decisions will be made if you elect good readers.
More to follow
I still have mountains to learn about this job and what skills are required, but so far what I know for certain is that for all a candidate’s good intentions, they haven’t got a hope of accomplishing them unless they can listen and read for hours and hours—and hours.