11 years as School Trustee has prepared me to hit the ground running

From the mailbag: what has your experience serving as an elected public school trustee taught you, and how would you apply these lessons at city hall?

I’ve learned that there is no substitute for actual elected experience and navigating the tensions and pressures of elected office. (Read more about my experience here)

Serving for three terms and 11 years as elected trustee on the Edmonton Public School Board taught me valuable lessons that I will directly apply as your City Councillor. Of course, 11 years of leading a $1.3 Billion dollar organization brings enormous responsibility, along with public assurance and oversight of the budgets, buses, bylaws, and buildings that continue to steward and shepherd an organization into the future.

Governance is leadership and better process leads to better outcomes. With your support, I would bring these learnings, supplemented by experience gleaned from the University of Alberta Students' Union and Board of Governors (two years), the Edmonton Public Library Board (six years), and other non-profit and community leadership experiences.

Here are a few learnings that come to mind:

  • Collaborating with other orders of government, including regional municipalities, provincial and federal stakeholders. If you listen to the Mayor and Councillors, many of their biggest headaches are a result of actions taken at the Provincial or Federal government: housing the unhoused, addictions, even funding for capital projects etc. require collaboration with the province and the feds. As a councillor or school trustee, your role shifts to advocacy and helping fight for a fair deal for your shared constituents. I’m proud that our campaign has garnered the endorsement of current and former elected officials who I have experience collaborating with and driving a fair deal for Edmonton.
  • Working with the City Manager and the Administration. Just as the school board has one employee, the Superintendent, so does City Council. Working effectively with administration means that you need to know how to disagree without being disagreeable. Working hard to make sure that you can negotiate, know when to compromise, and know when to take a stand. The power of administration and bureaucracy to make change and set the agenda for elected officials cannot be understated. Serving as the EPSB Board Vice-Chair and Chair for two years taught me an enormous amount about managing these relationships.
  • Working with leaders to build power in community. When advocating for your community, sometimes the political will may not be there at the moment, but by working with partners, the public, and other stakeholders, you can help take ideas and turn them into action. Sometimes you may lose a vote today, but win a vote tomorrow. It’s about knowing when to take a stand, put out a press release, host a community meeting, or take a pass entirely. This can also include building an inside/outside strategy: working with advocacy groups and others to help them build their power to create the political will to make change at the elected level. I've lead or played a leadership role in campaigns for better food on campus (The Gateway, April 6, 2006), lower tuition and rents (CBC News, January 10th, 2008), traffic calming to allowing children in condos (City Monitor, 11 May 2017to prioritizing public parks and the river valley (Edmonton Journal, Jan 8, 2019), I’ve developed enormous learning in these areas from my wins and losses.
  • "Working with" vs. "Working for": First and foremost, the role of any councillor must be to protect the public interest and what is in the best interest of the entire public, not one developer, private interest, or special interest group. Sometimes this means having uncomfortable conversations, not only with your political opponents but your friends. It means being willing to vote "No" and accept that a bad deal in some cases is worse than no deal at all. I’ve seen too many times (and experienced personally) when elected officials or advocates become co-opted, and end up working for administration, government, developers, hockey team owners, private business interests, or other organizations. They end being less the voice of community to government and more the voice of government to community. They become more concerned about "positive relationships" rather than the positive outcomes those relationships are supposed to produce.

As your City Councillor, I will be just as tenacious an advocate for the interests of Edmonton as I fought for Public Education as your school trustee. Just like my three previous school board campaigns, I’m proud our campaign is not beholden to any big money donors or special interest groups. This is what our democracy and community need: putting the public interest first.

Connect with Michael

Address: 1 Sir Winston Churchill Sq, 2nd Floor, Edmonton, AB T5J 2R7