By Patrick Merlihan
Running for elected office for the very first time in 2014 was not a decision made lightly. Aside from my potential conflicts and optics of a newspaper owner running for office, the personal toll of the job on me and my family were given the highest priority. Before making my final decision to put my name forward I did some due diligence to find out if my skills could complement the role of a Councillor in my municipality.
My research started with the job descriptions posted by the municipality. I ventured further afield reading the Municipal Act and other provincial documents posted that seemed relevant. I even signed up and have the certificate to prove it for the “So you want to run for Council” e-learning module hosted by the Association of Municipalities Ontario (AMO). When I was comfortable enough with myself and the idea of running for office I had a discussion with my family, colleagues and friends in the community. I had a lot of personal support that led me to make the next step; filing the paperwork.
Just days after filing, an interview with Township staff took place to unload more information about the expectations and rules of running in an election, tracking and filing expenses, and tax roll data to assist with door-to-door canvassing. That was my only contact with the municipality I had until election night when I found out I was successfully elected.
Wanting to jump right in, I signed up for two New Councillor Training sessions hosted in London by AMO. It wasn’t until the second session of my training that I learned about the Standard of Care. Until this point it hadn’t come across my radar and the personal liability associated with the act scared me. At the time I felt ill-prepared having no technical background experience to be able to make knowledgeable decisions on water and be held personally accountable.
My first reaction was why am I hearing about this after winning the election? How did I miss knowing about a job liability that could potentially threaten me and my family’s livelihood?
In a room full of new recruits, I am certain I wasn’t alone in my feelings there in that session or on my Council when they came to this realization later on. I have since taken the Walkerton Standard of Care training and understand the importance of Council members not making light of decisions surrounding water quality standards. It’s no place to cut corners or support measures that could compromise a communities’ water. I’m all on board.
At one of my first meetings as a Political Director with the Ontario Municipal Water Association I mentioned my experience as a newly minted Councillor finding out about the Standard of Care. Now, as Chair of the Communication and Publications Committee of the OMWA, I am hoping that some of our work this year can focus on raising the awareness of the Standard of Care for potential candidates in the next election.
Avoiding unnecessary surprises and raising the profile of the discussion of water at Ontario Municipalities, can only be a good thing.
Patrick Merlihan is a councillor for Woolwich Township. He is a board member on the Ontario Municipal Water Association and chair of its publication and communications committee. He is the Print/Web Manager of the Woolwich Observer, a community newspaper serving Woolwich and Wellesley Townships for more than 20 years.