Carleton Place council chambers turned into a classroom for a day in early November as twelve curious individuals attended the first of a three-class series dedicated to teaching the workings of local government.
Speakers for the sessions were Paul Knowles, Carleton Place chief administrative officer, Duncan Rogers, Carleton Place clerk and Stacey Blair, deputy clerk. They each spoke in turn about the history of the town along with the nuts and bolts of life at town hall. The history included discussion about one of the sister cities to Carleton Place – Franklin, Tennessee. This Municipal Academy is an idea that was borne from a similar class that Franklin held for their citizens.
This is the sixth incarnation of the course – historically occurring every two years or so – with 10 to 12 people in attendance for each offering. The students introduced themselves at the onset and stated their reasons for attending; some were there to learn about the workings of their own town, others to see how it is done in Carleton Place so they can share the information with their own municipality. Rogers said students come from “wide backgrounds; young people, elderly people, people who are in the community for many years and people who are newly arrived.”
Academy student Jayne Munro-Ouimet said she wanted to find out “what the influence of the federal and provincial governments have on the bylaws and the decisions made by a municipality.” She also wanted to learn the structure of the council, the election process (nominating process) and how proposals made it to the council for consideration.
Karen Prytula had similar goals. She wanted to learn how motions were presented to council and voted upon along with the other procedures required around those actions. She was also just genuinely intrigued by the course itself, saying “I wanted to know what I would be missing if I didn’t take it.”
Government methods can vary wildly in each municipality; there is no single method to govern. Rogers said, “There are 444 municipalities in Ontario. What may work well in North Bay may not work at all in Chatham, so it is the local people governing themselves for their needs under the framework of provincial legislation.”
Blair emphasized the notion that government is there to serve the people. “Municipalities all provide similar services and achieve the same goals, but how we get there can be completely different,” she said. “It is also one of the most accountable levels of government and they have to be. The reaction is immediate. If you are upset about something at the municipal level, you pick up your phone or send an email… It is an immediate interface. Same with staff. We are right here…whatever we can help you with, we will.”
When asked what they would like to see a student learn from the course, Blair indicated her hope would be “that it encourages people to vote in the upcoming municipal election.”
She hopes that civic engagement initiatives, like this course, will put local government on the radar for each student. Bringing the subject of local government to the forefront of their thinking and maybe then they would be “more compelled to participate or even consider running in the election.” Rogers added, that if a student walks away “with a sense that [they] have learned something more about local government and community” he believes the course has achieved a level of success.
If people take it a step beyond and decide to serve on the library board, the recreation committee or the heritage committee, for example, “We have shown people that there is something really worthwhile in getting involved.”
Citizen involvement is especially important when you consider that by the end of 2018, eight key positions in town hall will be vacated due to retirement. This course is a step in the right direction for helping to involve the citizens and educate them in the workings of our town.
This article was first published in the December issue of Hometown News. For more articles from our December issue, pick up a print copy at a local retailer or read our digital version.