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First-term councillors from Prince County describe 'learning curves' of P.E.I. municipal politics

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Taking on the position of municipal councillor can be a daunting task. Heading into municipal elections four years ago, there were a number of first-time councillors on the ballot and no shortage of goals and ideas for them to accomplish once elected. But as is often the case, the rules can change once inside the system. Here is a quick analysis of how different things are once a hopeful councillor is elected for the first time.

Brian McFeely. 
Brian McFeely. 

Brian McFeely, Summerside

“There’s no question there are learning curves. Particularly to things I may not have paid attention to. My background before coming into council was as a recreation director for the city. I had also worked in senior levels of government, so I was exposed to meetings of this kind before.”

McFeely was elected to Summerside City Council in 2014, representing Ward 7 (Three Oaks – Green Shore).

“I learned quickly that Summerside is unique with its electric utility. And it’s something that is very complex, so understanding that issue was a big thing as well as understanding the city’s financials.”

He says when the current council was elected, it became clear they were looking for a new way of doing business.

“It’s what helped form our governance, policy and strategy committee pretty quickly. It helped form the way things were researched by staff and how policies were changed. So that also came with a lot of learning.”

Coreen Pickering, Kensington Town Council 

Coreen Pickering
Coreen Pickering

“When I first decided to run four years ago, I was just sitting around with some of my girlfriends talking about this and that and then we got onto what we’d like to see in the town. So, it was a very spur of the moment. I didn’t’ really know anything about running. I think it was about two weeks before the election when I entered the race,” she said. “I definitely went in a little blind. I had a young child, was running a business. So, there was definitely a learning period when we took office.”

Pickering said she was concerned about presenting opinions and points to other councillors.

“I remember saying ‘oh I hope I don’t curse, or don’t do that. So, the biggest learning curve at that time was learning how to deliver your message in a professional way,” she said.

“And because I was so new at this I really tried to educate myself on that and the workings of councillor, even how the other councillors meshed together and what their personalities were.”

She says it was helpful to have other councillors working with her on projects who had already served multiple terms.

Tyler DesRoches.
Tyler DesRoches.

Tyler DesRoches, Summerside

“There was a large learning curve when I entered council.”

DesRoches, who will complete his first term along with McFeely, represents Ward 8 (Wilmot) in Summerside.

“I’d say I learned quickly that it’s different from what you think when you go in and you want to get something done, and then you realize just how long something can take to come into effect.”

He says a misconception he had was how much (or little) input councillors had over the actions of senior staff.

“I didn’t about know the amount of input we didn’t have in the work of senior staff members.”

He added, that the first two years of his career were the up-swing of the curve.

He says looking back he wishes he tapped into the experience of past Ward 8 councillor Cory Thomas.

“It’s one of the big things I should have done, but I didn’t want to because I wanted to go into it my way. But now I know that there’s so much more to the city than I realized. It’s something I would have done differently.”

He says he learned to use the help of senior staff members to get as much information as possible was the key to understanding the city’s nuts and bolts.

“And being able to reach out to other committee directors have been a help. It’s remarkable at the end of the day to see how the city runs.”

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