On Aug. 11, nine local citizens from various backgrounds took an opportunity to learn more about Town of Virden operations and get the lowdown on becoming a candidate in this fall's civic election.
At the information session in the Council Chambers, Chief Administrative Officer Rhonda Stewart provided details on the current Council's priorities, as well as an elected official’s role in the governance of the Town, enacting by-laws, policies and resolutions which guide administration in carrying out their day-to-day duties.
Stewart explained that under the Conflict of Interest Act, individual councillors are required to disclose any assets of interest by the end of November each year – data that is available to the public.
“The reason for that is that a member of the public may feel that you're in conflict...that you're making a decision at the council table that will directly benefit you or a family member,” she said.
“If there is such an issue, you should be declaring a conflict and removing yourself from the decision.”
A Code of Conduct By-Law, enacted in 2020, governs Council's interactions with their colleagues, municipal employees and the public.
Stewart stressed the importance of the Mayor and Council taking a leadership role, aiming to make their decisions with the best interests of the community in mind over the long haul. As an example, she pointed to the current council's efforts in bringing a new water source to the community, and those in the past who had the vision to develop Tundra Oil & Gas Place, which opened in 2011.
“When that project (the new recreation complex) came forward, there were quite a few people that were naysayers,” she said. “If the council of the day had listened to the minority, that place would not have been built. They (Council) had the ability to say ‘This is what the community needs. We'll take the bad press and proceed with what we feel is right.’”
Councillors are expected to be the “eyes and ears” of the public, liaising between them and the Town's administration. They can expect a significant commitment over the course of a four-year term. Serving on committees, such as Planning and Finance and Sewer, Water and Transportation, requires their time outside of the regular twice monthly meetings. Appointments are made to various other community boards and commissions as well, such as the Aud Theatre Board and Virden Employment Skills Centre. There are periodic special meetings, including the development of the annual Financial Plan, a joint session with the R.M. Of Wallace-Woodworth Council, and the Association of Manitoba Municipalities Spring and Fall Conventions.
In terms of compensation, the Mayor receives $18,029 per year, while the Deputy Mayor earns $15,454 and each Councillor $12,878. A per diem is paid for each day they are out of the community on Town business, as well as an allowance for meals and travel.
In order to run for election, candidates must first register with Stewart, who serves as the Senior Election Official, before they are allowed to spend any money on their campaign. Keeping accurate records of dollars expended, even for what may seem trivial, is imperative.
“It's important for you to realize that money spent can be as little as you sitting down with a buddy and talking about the fact you're running for Council, and buying their coffee for them,” she said. “That's a campaign finance expense.”
Spending limits are set out in the Campaign Finance By-Law. A separate bank account is required for donations and a statement must be filed post-election.
The candidate registration period for head of council and councillor is now open and runs until September 20. At least 25 signatures must be collected for nomination. The campaign period is 42 days, and voters will head to the polls on Oct. 26, electing a mayor and six councillors to serve a four-year term. Orientation is planned for early November, which will include a presentation by Doug Griffiths of 13 Ways Inc., whose firm devised the strategic plan which was presented to the public in May.
“We're not trying to scare people off, we just want to let everyone know what the role entails,” Stewart said. “It can be demanding, but there's no other job where you can be involved in making decisions which directly improve the well-being of your residents.”
Mayor Murray Wright and several members of his council attended the session to answer questions. In an interview afterwards, he was appreciative of the number of people who came out and the level of interest shown in the affairs of their community.
“It's nice to see all these people out and showing interest in how the Town operates and the future of our town,” he said. “I sure hope they all run. We need a strong election.”
For his part, Wright made it official that he will be seeking a second term as Mayor.
“I will be running again,” he said. “There's so many things that I want to see completed that we've done, and some new things that I would like to see get started as well, that are going to help the community. It's nice to have the things done today that we do, but we have another generation coming up that we have to look ahead to and make sure that it's all there for them too.” I'm going to stick around for another four years, and if I get voted out, good luck to the new person.”