Tuesday, August 14, 2012

What does it take to be a Councillor?

[The following items were posted in the run-up to the 2012 elections, and arose in a series of online information meetings.]

Thanks to all those who turned out to get more information about running for Council. Best of luck to each of you in the election.

A number of questions came up repeatedly over the evening. At the risk of discouraging attendance at the final session, I've posted the questions and answers below. If you have further questions to which you'd like to see answers posted, please get in touch.

What is the core time commitment for Council?

What about missed meetings due to contracts?

What about the time commitment between meetings?

What about committee work?

I run a small theatre company – is that a conflict of interest?

What are the big issues on the horizon?

Will there be a steep learning curve to participation on Council?

Do I need a "platform" to run on?

What is the core time commitment for Council?
The principal time commitment is to attend meetings. There are ten meetings per year; seven are 2-hour conference calls / web-conferences, and the other three are two-day in-person meetings, generally held in Toronto. Travel and accommodation expenses for the in-person meetings are covered, of course. If you are unable to attend in person on occasion, Council also arranges telephone conferencing participation for those meetings. However, in-person attendance is encouraged if at all possible; those are the meetings where Council digs into its biggest and most complex topics, and being present in the room is greatly preferable for efficient and effective discussion.

The not-so-fine print: serial non-attendance (missing three entire meetings in a row) will result in automatic removal from Council – it is important that your constituency receives the representation it deserves.

What about missed meetings due to contracts?
Obviously, we're all in the same boat in that regard, so occasional absence is accommodated. First off, our usual meeting day is Mondays, which works well with the majority of contracts. If you know that you will be unavoidably absent for three meetings in a row due to contract obligations, you can ask for a leave of absence for that period. However, this accommodation can only be used once per term. Because of the conference call option, Councillors generally find the attendance requirement quite manageable, even if work obligations mean they miss a couple of meetings each year.

What about the time commitment between meetings?
In general, the largest between-meeting time obligation will be preparing for each meeting. Councillors are sent the meeting package 10 days in advance of the meeting, so they have ample time to review the information; it can generally be done in less than an hour.

What about committee work?
Council operates with very few standing committees, and a couple of cyclical ones (the election committee, for instance.) Additional committees will occasionally be struck to tackle specific topics, but presumably if you put your hand up for one of those, you will already have an investment in the topic. Council does not have any "habitual" committees that need to be filled just so that we can say we have one. If we need one for something, we create it. When it's done its work, we dissolve it. As well as preventing the usual proliferation of board committees, it helps keep Councillor committee work much more manageable.

I run a small theatre company – is that a conflict of interest?
Several current Councillors are in the same position. As a general rule, Council has found them to be in a "manageable" conflict, which essentially means that they are expected to withdraw from discussion or debate if the topic strays into the realm of conflict. They can otherwise fully take part in the business of Council.

In practice, recusal is very rarely needed, since Council's discussion is generally at such an "umbrella" level, that conflict of interest for an individual theatre is unlikely. Either way, Councillors are expected to represent the membership as artists engaged for various productions, and the ability to set aside one's "engager hat" when serving on Council is essential. Candidates expecting to serve in an engager capacity are likely to find councillor-ship very unsatisfying.

What are the big issues on the horizon?
The past three Councils have worked very hard to clear the agenda of issues that have been pending for a long time: insurance, diversity, reevaluation of the joining process, independent theatre, greater involvement of the membership in the negotiation/review of scale agreements, safe and respectful workplaces, etc.

Coming up, we want to improve how Council communicates with the membership - electronic communication is a much larger element than it used to be, but we still can't ignore the direct contact and outreach. Finding a new balance in that area, with guidance from the membership, will be important.

Beyond that, it's largely an open question. It will definitely be time in the next term to go back out to the membership with a general "Now what?" question, to chart the course forward on what the membership tells us are the current priorities for them. And then, of course, for Council to act on what it learns.

Will there be a steep learning curve to participation on Council?
A bit: steep-ish, but no more than a couple of meetings, and navigated with lots of help. Unlike many boards, where one is expected to pick it up as one goes along, Council prioritises training right off the bat. The first meeting will be three days long, which will largely be devoted to learning about how Council operates (the practical mechanics as well as the general principles) and other key aspects of governance. With that training under your belt, and a bit of guidance from returning Councillors, you'll feel comfortable with the process and responsibilities in no time.

Back to the top

Yes and no. 

The no part...  When you agree to serve on the board, you agree to serve on behalf of the entire membership, not just on behalf of people from your region or personal theatre community. It's most accurate to think of Councillors as serving "from" a constituency, rather than "for" a constituency.

Any member, regardless of whether or not they sit on Council can propose topics for Council consideration, so sitting on Council is not one's sole opportunity to bring forward a specific issue. Everyone has that opportunity, year round. Besides, focussing on a specific platform tends to attract a very narrow band of voters, and Equity is nothing if not diverse in its views and approach to theatre.

The yes part... By serving on Council, you will be part of helping to make Equity better, and work better, for all members, so that is really the core of every Councillor's platform. Council takes its direction from the whole spectrum of the membership. For a broader exploration of the panoramic approach that Council and its members take to the work of governance, see my earlier post on Council Basics.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"Virtual Green Room" election chats scheduled

Thinking of running for Council?

Serving on Council is an important commitment. If elected, your colleagues will be counting on you to help govern Equity on their behalf, and that is no small responsibility. If you’re on the fence about running and there is something you desperately need to know before you make the leap, here is your chance.

Join President Allan Teichman for an informal online/telephone chat to learn about how Council works, what is expected of Councillors, and…really to field any questions you may want to have answered before you throw your hat into the ring. (Or even if you already have!) It’s just me, my phone and my webcam (you don’t need one yourself) and probably a cat or two. Heck, you could even join the conversation just to find out what my basement looks like.

Log in or phone in at any point during the times below, and I’ll take questions as long as the coffee holds out.

Monday, August 13
8:00-11:00 p.m. ET

Tuesday, August 28
9:00 p.m.- midnight ET

By phone: 1-888-289-4573 / participant code: 9390733#
Online: caea.adobeconnect.com/election2012/

Note:If you choose to join the online version, select "guest" on the log in screen.

Thanks to all those who attended!