The job of a civic politician, explained

If there’s one person in Richmond who knows the roles and responsibilities of civic politicians, it’s Greg Halsey-Brandt.

He’s served as both over his impressive 23-year political career and went to Victoria for a stint as an MLA. After that, he got elected to council one last time before retiring in 2011.

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Richmond’s eight city councillors and the mayor are tasked with making collective decisions to reflect the needs and wants of the community, and with allowing city staff to implement those decisions.

Halsey-Brandt says there are two parts to the role of a city councillor: being a line of communication between people and council and being a policy-maker.

 “You attend community events and you also get lots of phone calls and emails … in terms of issues and problems,” he said. “Each councillor builds up a certain audience of people who want to get in touch with them … and you take those issues to council or staff to get them resolved.”

Those issues, he says, can range from parks to garbage collection to policing.

The second part of the job is establishing policy adopting bylaws for areas that local government has control over. Halsey-Brandt recalls weighing in on everything from building traffic lights to zoning for parks to protecting agricultural land.

The mayor’s role is similar in many ways to that of a city councillor, but they take on more of a facilitation role. In a video about the roles and responsibilities of a local elected official prepared by the provincial government, the mayor is highlighted as the person responsible for creating an environment that allows productive discussion to take place. They’re also the person who appoints others to standing committees. 

Richmond’s mayor only has one vote in city council decisions, the same as any other councillor. But Halsey-Brandt said it requires more leadership because you have to work hard to get people to agree. And if the vote doesn’t go in your favour you still have to represent the majority, he added.

He also liked the full-time nature of the mayoral role, saying he continued working 40 hours a week at his other job while he was a city councillor (even though city councillors are remunerated with full-time salaries, making $66,214 in 2017.)

Mayors also tend to participate more on external boards, like TransLink or the Mayor’s Council, Halsey-Brandt said. He enjoyed learning about solutions in other municipalities that might work in Richmond. 

One issue he’s noticing with the current crop of Richmond candidates, though, is that they don’t have a good grasp of what’s within city jurisdiction and what’s not. 

“You listen to what these candidates say and you just give your head a shake,” he said. “They’re going to change the police tomorrow. But you can’t, they have a contract.”

He’s also heard talk of building a new tower at Richmond General Hospital, even though it’s run by Vancouver Coastal Health.

“It might be helpful to study what the city can and can’t do a little more before they throw their hat in the ring,” he said.

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