Twenty years of strategic planning

Town of CollingwoodTwenty years ago – May, 1994 – the Town of Collingwood started a community-based strategic plan. That report was released in October, 1995. Then in October, 2000, Vision 2020 released its Blueprint Collingwood. These two documents are generally forgotten by the general public today, but they have been the basis of planning, of policy and strategic targets by councils and staff ever since.

No particular council or mayor can take credit for the accomplishments; they’ve been achieved over more than two decades of effort and resolve. This post is simply to point out that these visionary documents were neither ignored nor buried on shelves, but rather have been incorporated into planning and policy.

True, not every recommendation was accepted or adopted. Some were impractical – cost or complexity were too great, others involved different jurisdictions beyond the town’s control (i.e. upgrades to Highway 26 or waste management). But many have been used successfully.

Both reports built on an earlier document and process, Focus 2000, dated from (I believe) 1990. Both later documents had similar processes and approaches: task forces, community involvement, focus groups, interviews and workshops. Although they have areas of similarity, they also have differences.

The Strategic Plan identified six key features that residents valued and wanted to retain:

  • Small town atmosphere;
  • Natural beauty and the environment;
  • Recreation and leisure activities;
  • A clean, safe, friendly community;
  • Community activities and special events.

One item – “small town atmosphere” is difficult to manage. One cannot legislate a friendly, welcoming, positive attitude or to post optimistic comments in social or other media. We cannot pass bylaws that require people to say hello, please and thank you, to hold a door open, or to let someone back out of a parking space on the main street. But councils have tried to retain some of the look and feel that encourage at least the aesthetic feel of Collingwood – including keeping green/wild spaces and trees. Otherwise, these features have all been key in the town’s planning and policy development.

On the key issues facing the town, as reported in the study, here’s how we fared. My comments are in blue:

  • Lack of opportunities, especially for youth;
    We have a youth centre, skateboard park and many recreational opportunities, but we don’t have a lot of employment opportunities outside the service and hospitality sectors. We are not alone in this: most Ontario municipalities have struggled with plant and industry closures the past two decades. However, we do have some manufacturing such as Goodall, Sensortech, Pilkington Glass, Canadian Mist, Agnora Glass and others. Two microbreweries are scheduled to open here this year. So we’re better off than many communities our size – these companies employ residents and several are adding new jobs every year.
  • Waterfront development;
    The residential waterfront development started, but collapsed along with the economy in 2008. It’s been on hold ever since while banks and real estate companies attempt to sell off the remaining parcels to a new developer. The town has upgraded the waterfront area in the harbour, and recently added docks to encourage more boat traffic. Falling water levels have been a problem for a few years, but that may be a cyclic pattern. The grain terminals has been up for sale for a few years, but so far no serious buyer has come forward. Meanwhile there have been enhancements to both Sunset Point and Harbourview parks.
  • Lack of cultural activities and facilities;
    The town now has a culture coordinator who helps promote and encourage cultural events and activities. There is no municipal arts centre, but both the new municipal (library) building and the privately-owned Tremont have gallery space. The former newspaper office was turned into a private theatre/gallery/workshop space. Our council chambers now showcase local artists. The Elvis Festival is about to enter its 20th anniversary, and remains the town’s largest summer event. Other events have been promoted, such as the Jazz at the Station weekly show. We have more street art, too.
  • Preservation of the natural environment;
    Ongoing and raised frequently (as recently as the June 2 council meeting). The NVCA has helped preserve wetlands and wild areas from development. It is sometimes tough to balance this with the need for growth. We also instigated and had completed a natural heritage study, done by the NVCA.
  • The economy and taxes.
    Ongoing. It’s always a balancing act between providing services and facilities people want, and maintaining/upgrading infrastructure, and keeping taxes low. The local economy is doing fairly well, but like any small town, we have to watch our money. This term taxes have been kept remarkably low (an average of about 0.5% over four years), while the debt has been paid down significantly without over-burdening the taxpayers ($11 million paid from an inherited $45 million debt). The national and world economies took a beating in 2008, which affected local growth and development, but we have been recovering slowly.

On the opportunities and goals:

  • Attract light industry and high-tech business;
    We face some competition, but we have been successful in attracting Agnora Glass, two new microbreweries, and celebrating an expansion of the Goodall rubber plant. The former ethanol plant is available for re-use for such purposes as fertilizer manufacturing. We have been fortunate to retain some of our industrial base. Our new Marketing and Economic Development manager will help us in the task of promoting Collingwood.
  • Increase tourism – promote Collingwood as a  4-season tourism resort;
    This is ongoing and has been the priority of groups like the Georgian Triangle Tourism Association.
  • Improve and develop the waterfront and make it accessible;
    Pedestrian and public access was built into the new development, although not fully completed when the development stalled, in 2008.
  • Promote arts activities and special events; build a theatre;
    We have two private theatres and private gallery spaces, plus the municipal space in the library.
  • Improve the downtown and heritage buildings;
    Done and ongoing. We now have a heritage district with strict building controls and bylaws.
  • Promote seminars, conferences and retreats.
    While we currently lack sufficient public facilities for such events, the current revitalization of the Eddie Bush Arena will provide an opportunity to host such events in the near future.

Most councils since the Strategic Plan was released have actively incorporated many of the ideas and suggestions into their operation and policies.

Everything, of course, comes with a challenge. The growth plan that will see Collingwood grow to about 31,000 in a few years may reduce some of the “small town atmosphere” that we treasure. That growth will see higher demand on services and facilities, which may mean greater costs. But I don’t think the overall well-being will be adversely affected because of the solid base that has been built over the last 20 years..

The waterfront Shipyards property has gone through its ups and downs, with development started – with great optimism then halted by the 2008 Recession. There are still approved plans for future residential and commercial development there, but no developer has taken the reins. Like with the Admiral Collingwood site, the fluctuating economy and slow recovery has curtailed its completion. Development is always at the mercy of the economy.

All councils wrestle with retaining as much of the natural environment as possible, although it sometimes conflicts with other strategic goals, like growth and development. We try to balance community interest with the rights of the developer.

And as for taxes and the economy: this council has a record of an average 0.5% tax increase over the past four years, paying down the town’s $45 million debt by $11 million AND building new recreational facilities, a new fire hall, purchased Fisher Field, a new Public Works building with 30 acres of property.

This term’s exemplary fiscal management should be a model for future councils.

Continue reading “Twenty years of strategic planning”

3,554 total views, 10 views today

Should councillors abstain from voting?

Abstain from votingIn an earlier post, I wrote that Collingwood’s Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swayze, proposed two changes to the town’s Procedural Bylaw: amending section 13.7 and deleting section 13.8. Last post I dealt with the former; here I will explain my concerns about the latter.

Section 13.8 currently reads:

13.8 No vote – deemed negative – exception
Notwithstanding the provisions of Section 13.7 of this By-law, every Member who is not disqualified from voting by reason of a declared pecuniary interest shall be deemed to be voting against the motion if he/she declines or abstains from voting.

In other words, no member of council, board or committee can abstain from voting when at the table: everyone present has to vote or have the abstention counted as a negative vote.

This is partially derived from Section 246 of the Municipal Act, which reads

Recorded vote
246. (1) If a member present at a meeting at the time of a vote requests immediately before or after the taking of the vote that the vote be recorded, each member present, except a member who is disqualified from voting by any Act, shall announce his or her vote openly and the clerk shall record each vote. 2001, c. 25, s. 246 (1).
Failure to vote
(2) A failure to vote under subsection (1) by a member who is present at the meeting at the time of the vote and who is qualified to vote shall be deemed to be a negative vote. 2001, c. 25, s. 246 (2).

So under the MA, you need to call a recorded vote to have an abstention deemed negative. That can get tedious. Other provinces don’t have this requirement. Saskatchewan’s guide for municipal councillors notes:

All Members Must Vote
Legislation requires every member of council including the mayor or reeve, to vote on every question. Members must not abstain from voting unless they have a pecuniary interest. If a member abstains from voting for any other reason legislation deems his or her vote as opposed to the motion. Minutes are required to record all abstentions from voting.

There’s a bit of confusion about rules of order and what rules to follow. Some people think our municipal meetings  – including board and committee – are governed by either Robert’s or Bourinot’s Rules of Order. That’s incorrect: we are governed by the Municipal Act and our Procedural Bylaw. Council and all boards, committees and task forces created by the municipality are bound by the procedural bylaw.

Mr. Swayze wrote in his report to council:

In my opinion, all members of Council should be encouraged to declare a conflict, whether pecuniary or not, if the member feels that he or she cannot be impartial in voting on a matter. If for example, a member sits on the board of directors of a charity and awarding grants to the charity is before Council, the Councillor should declare a conflict, refrain from voting and such a declaration should not be deemed to be a vote against the charity. I have recommended in Appendix “D” that personal conflicts be added to section 13.7 and that 13.8 be deleted from the Procedural By-law.

Like in my previous post, my concern is in the implementation, not the intent.

Continue reading “Should councillors abstain from voting?”

5,510 total views, 7 views today

Brands, Buzz & Going Viral

Municipal WorldMy third book for Municipal World, Brands, Buzz & Going Viral, has just been published as part of the Municipal Information Series. I received my author’s copies yesterday.

I am very proud of this book; it took a lot of work to research and write. I enjoyed writing it. I hope my municipal readers find it both informative and interesting.

I am also delighted to be able to share my knowledge and experience with others in the municipal governance realm across Canada. It’s a humbling experience to be among the respected authors and experts in MW’s stable – authors whose books I have bought and read ever since I was first elected, a decade ago.

It is nice to be able to add a voice from Collingwood to their ranks, so show the rest of Canada’s municipal politicians and staff that we’re not just a pretty place to live; that we can be leaders in the areas of governance, that we can be be forerunners for ideas and knowledge.

Brands, Buzz & Going Viral is subtitled “A sourcebook of modern marketing strategies, tips and practices to promote your municipality.” Unlike my previous two books, it includes considerable material culled from printed and online sources: quotes with links and references back to them, and a healthy bibliography at the back.

BB&GV covers a wide array of related topics. While working on the book, I purchased and read dozens of books on marketing, advertising, public relations, branding, destination marketing, storytelling, communication and social media. I also went online and read thousands of articles and posts on the sites of experts, practitioners, and professional organizations. I listened to podcasts, watched slide shows and video lectures. I subscribed to email newsletters about PR and marketing.

Along the way, I learned about such topics as gamification, advocacy, cohorts and influencers, content marketing, infographics, newsjacking, viral marketing, reputation management, corporate social responsibility, crisis management, integrated marketing, rebranding, market research and persuasion. Some of which I had experience in, but I renewed my own knowledge as I researched. I hope I am able to apply my new knowledge to help formulate ideas and strategies for our town’s future marketing and economic development strategies.

The folder of PDFs printed from websites I read as resource material for the book is 2GB in size, with more than 1,100 files. (Contact me if you are interested in this source material.)

Continue reading “Brands, Buzz & Going Viral”

2,783 total views, no views today

The Enemies List

TyeeCanadians barely lifted an eyebrow in surprise when it was revealed that our Prime Minister had an “enemies list” compiled as a warning to newly-minted cabinet ministers laying out who they can’t trust. I mean, we’ve lived with Harper as leader long enough not be shocked by anything that seems petty, autocratic, paranoid or Republican.

So what if the list was so long it had to be delivered in several boxes and had more names than the GTA white pages?

The Toronto Star editorialized about how the “PMO’s derisive and adversarial tone is rightly ringing alarm bells.” Clearly they haven’t been paying close attention to the PMO these past several years. Most Canadians assumed the PMO had trademarked “derisive” and “adversarial” as their own.

Then they threw in what’s become another meme: the comparison between Harper and former US President, Richard Nixon and, inevitably, Watergate:

The comparison to Nixon is unsettling. The disgraced former president was thought to view dissenters as adversaries to be destroyed rather than debated. The enemies list is just the latest piece of evidence that Prime Minister Stephen Harper has a tendency to think the same way.

Uh huh. Harper-as-Nixon isn’t necessarily a bad thing, from Harper’s perspective. After all, Nixon made a successful comeback from being the butt of media jokes to being the President. Sure he lied and schemed his way into the job; he was mistrustful, suspicious, controlling, manipulative and dishonest. But that’s not a bad role model for Stephen. Some might argue Stephen is far more cunning and treacherous than Nixon ever was. Maybe he considered it high praise.*

And Nixon had a List. Twenty names, that’s all. Well, that and the 576 names on his Other List. But for a country with more than 200 million at the time, 596 enemies isn’t all that many. Barely enough to fill a regiment. Stephen can do better, Surely he can muster at least a division’s worth of enemies. Maybe even a whole corps of them.

Andrew Coyne, writing in the NatPost with biting tongue-in-cheek, basically made the point that the list of perceived enemies might actually be close to infinite.

The PM (or at least the PMO) is suspicious of or fears anyone who doesn’t share Stephen’s ideology. That person goes on the list.

That’s a big list, since one of his favourite political games seems to be “guess what I’m thinking” – the loser gets booted out of caucus, the winner gets to sit in a minister’s chair (until the next round). Just ask Helena. Or Peter Kent.

Continue reading “The Enemies List”

4,351 total views, 20 views today

A Sneak Peak Inside Our New Fire Hall

Councillor Lloyd and I took a tour through the new fire hall, at the corner of High and Third Streets, today. It’s still under construction, but the main components are finished and the firefighters have moved in. It’s an impressive place. Well-designed, well-built (using a lot of local builders and materials!). Make sure you attend the open house when the building is officially completed, this fall. We should all be proud of this place: it sets standards not only for this town, but for other fire services across the province.

Here are some images to whet your appetite for visit. Bring your camera when you come!
Collingwood's New Firehall

The outside. Wood, glass and stone frontage. Very nice!

Collingwood's New Firehall

Shiny! And not just the floor. Continue reading “A Sneak Peak Inside Our New Fire Hall”

4,605 total views, no views today

The Decline in Media Credibility and Profitability

Pew Study image 1Last August the Pew research Center released the results of its latest study on how much the American public trusts the media. This has been part of an ongoing study since at least 2002, and ever since the first report, the amount of trust in media has fallen. This has been a hot topic of discussion online ever since, and the source of much hand-wringing at each new release.

Perhaps the mounting number of scandals in journalism has soured an audience accustomed to believing the media is honorable, trustworthy and upright. Perhaps it’s the growing politicization of (some) media that polarizes rather than informs public opinion. I don’t know.

Admittedly the study is based on American media, and the scandals have been mostly American made. I have not found a comparable study on Canadian media, but there are clues one can follow, and similar polls that tell us much.

Media typesThe Pew study asked respondents to rate various types of media for credibility. Local TV news rated highest, but other types of local media don’t seem to have been rated.

Not surprisingly, the uber-right-wing Fox News continues to lose trust among the American public. And I would suspect that similarly the uber-right Sun/QMI networks in Canada would fare the same. But if that’s so, then media that depend heavily on, say, QMI, as a source of material, the decline of trust in QMI must surely reflect on the subscribing media as well.

Why are these American media losing credibility faster than other sources? Probably because they are so blatantly, overtly ideological and people tire of the relentless mudslinging, attacks, innuendo and lies. These media cry wolf far too often.

Continue reading “The Decline in Media Credibility and Profitability”

7,110 total views, 5 views today

Pets and Policies: Why Dog Parks Matter

Dogs at PlayBack in April, 2011, I wrote a post about municipal policies towards pets, now in the blog archives. I noted then that…

A recent survey done by Colin Siren of Ipsos Reid estimated there are 7.9 million cats and 5.9 million dogs in Canada. The survey also shows that 35% of Canadian households have a dog, while 38% have a cat, which is consistent with other surveys conducted in the developed nations. Based on a figure of 9,500 households* we should have around 3,040 households with dogs and 3,610 with cats.

Well, the numbers have grown. We have (according to the 2011 census), 10,695 households. Round that up to 11,000 (because the census was done part-way through the year and we’ve had 18 months of construction since).

That suggests 3,850 households have one or more dogs, and 4,180 have one or more cats. Based on the average of 1.7 dogs per household, that means more than 6,500 dogs live in Collingwood. And, based on 2.2 cats average, more than 9,000 cats.

Are these stats still reliable? I believe so. They are similar to other surveys conducted in the US and the UK. They match what the Canadian Veterinary Medical Association found. A recent survey by the Humane Society of the United States suggests a slightly higher figure for dog ownership: 39% of households, but lower for cats (33%).

Continue reading “Pets and Policies: Why Dog Parks Matter”

5,941 total views, 5 views today

The open government report

Accountability reportOn Monday’s agenda, council received a 21-page report from the clerk on the nature and mechanics of open government in Collingwood. This comprehensive report, titled the “Accountability and Transparency Policy,” because it also introduced a revised, formal policy, listed all of the bylaws, policies and legislation by which council and staff operate.

This is such an important and useful report that I felt it worthwhile to extract it from the April 13 agenda and make it available separately here. If you have not read it, or have any questions about how a council works and the rules that guide us, it’s worth reading. It opens by defining two terms:

Accountability: The principle that the municipality is obligated to demonstrate and take responsibility for its actions, decisions and policies and that it is answerable to the public at large.
Transparency: The principle that the municipality will conduct its business in an accessible, clear and visible manner and that its activities are open to examination by its stakeholders.

The report than goes on to further define how the municipality achieves these goals and why they are important:

Accountability, transparency and openness are standards of good government that enhance public trust. They are achieved through the Town of Collingwood adopting measures ensuring, to the best of its ability, that all activities and services are undertaken utilizing a process that is open and accessible to its stakeholders. In addition, wherever possible, the Town of Collingwood will engage its stakeholders throughout its decision making process which will be open, visible and transparent to the public.

The report then provides a comprehensive list of how we currently comply with the requirements, as well as what we do to enhance and better them:

The Town of Collingwood currently complies with a host of legislation, policies and procedures that maintain an open and transparent decision-making process. For the purposes of the Policy, the Town’s various policies, procedures and practices have been divided into the following categories:
1. Legislated Requirements
2. Financial Accountability, Oversight and Reporting
3. Performance Measurement and Reporting
4. Open Government
5. Internal Accountability and Ethical Standards

I won’t repeat all of the material that follows, but will include the section about “open government” which is really about local governance and the policies and procedures we already have in place to achieve this openness:

Open Government
The following are policies, procedures and practices that ensure the Town is transparent  in its operations and that residents are not only aware of how decisions are made and carried out, but that they are able to participate as well:

  • Council Procedure By-law
  • Public Posting and Distribution of Council Agenda Meeting Documentation
  • Public Notice By-law
  • Procurement By-law
  • Land Sale/Disposal By-law
  • Closed Meeting Investigator Policy and Retainer
  • Facility Naming Policies
  • Committee/Board Recruitment Policies
  • Land Acquisition Guidelines
  • Accessible Barrier Complaint Policy
  • Records Retention By-law
  • Social Media Policy

Continue reading “The open government report”

4,317 total views, no views today

Half Time News

Half Time News coverThis month, Collingwood residents got a newsletter in their Collus- PowerStream utility bill: The Half Time News. Recognizing this is the season of the Super Bowl, our  brochure provides residents a fun yet non-political update on the events and activities around council’s first two years in office: at the end of 2012 we are at the half-way point in our term. And what a term it’s been so far!

While media attention is often focused on a handful of issues, council has been involved in numerous initiatives and activities since we took office in December, 2010. These are all important to the community. Because we always get asked by residents about what is happening at council or in Town Hall, this flyer was produced.

This is the second in our new initiative to communicate better with our residents and keep people more fully informed about what their municipal government is doing for them.

Here’s the list of accomplishments from our first half, as listed in the flyer:

First Year Highlights:

Patios: Resolved the downtown patio issue satisfactorily;
Railroad: Closed the railroad, saving taxpayers $400,000 a year in operating costs. Started negotiations with the County of Simcoe and Metrolinx for future railroad development;
Taxes: Kept property taxes and user fees low. Kept water and sewer rates low;
Debt: Lowered the town’s outstanding debt from $41 million. Topped up our financial reserves;
Development: Gave the Admiral Collingwood development the green light to go ahead and build. Started the reconstruction of Raglan Street;
Costs: Reduced municipal spending. Significantly reduced legal costs;
Safety: Approved a new fire station;
Finances: Sold unneeded municipal properties;
Services: Improved local roads and servicing;
Transit: Implemented a new bus transit link with Wasaga Beach;
Recreation: Improved signage on local trails. Created a steering committee to research new rec facility options;
Growth: Approved new developments including Creekside, and Mountaincroft. Welcomed new businesses into town including the Hyundai dealership. Encouraged new growth and business at the Collingwood Airport;
Planning: Initiated a natural heritage study;
Community: Approved a community garden project. Improved relations between council, staff and the community;
Downtown: Implemented free downtown parking on evenings and weekends. Implemented a courtesy/warning ticket system for downtown parking during paid times.

Second Year Highlights:

Growth: Welcomed a proposal to build new Sidelaunch brewery in town. Approved new developments including Balmoral Village. Created a new partnership between Collus and PowerStream for future energy growth and efficiencies;
Taxes: Kept taxes and user fees low again;
Debt: Lowered the debt to $37 million by year-end. Topped up reserves;
Municipal: Purchased new Works and Parks & Recreation Dept. property and building at much less than the appraised value;
Recreation: Purchased Fisher Field to improve soccer and other recreational activities. Resurfaced and upgraded our public tennis courts. Developed a tax-neutral solution to build much-needed, new recreational facilities through use of Sprung technologies;
Services: Extended water services to Long Point Road residents. Approved new traffic lights at Mountain Road & Tenth Line;
Development: Reconstructed Hurontario Street at Cameron to improve traffic flow. Purchased and demolished the former Mountain View hotel to finish the First Street widening project;
Management: Completed council’s strategic planning and priority-setting exercise. Implemented a team-based executive management model for municipal services. Initiated a comprehensive operational review of municipal services and functions;
Planning: Initiated an active transportation plan planning process;
Transit: Purchased two new buses to improve our transit system;
Downtown: Developed a new, energetic partnership with our BIA board and Downtown Revitalization committee;
Tourism: Developed a new partnership with the Georgian Triangle Tourism Association;
Safety: Started construction on the new fire station.

And here’s some of what we plan for the remainder of the term:

Second Half Game Plan:

Half Time News coverEconomy: Engage a director of marketing. Focus on employment and economic growth;
Taxes: Continue to keep taxes and municipal costs low;
Debt: Reduce the outstanding debt even more;
Operational Review: Implement identified efficiencies and communications within town hall;
Harbour and waterfront: Develop a new strategic plan with input from all stakeholders;
Recreation: Complete and open the new rec facilities;
Hume Street Corridor: Complete plans for the redevelopment;
Hurontario-First Street intersection: Complete the planned design upgrades;
Communications: Engage a communications co-ordinator to improve social media engagement;
OPP: Renovate and upgrade the current police building for improved service and efficiency;
Admiral Collingwood & The Shipyards: Encourage the developers to finish the projects this term.
And more!

We have some exciting, progressive ideas  about growth, communications, economic development and transportation that we’re working on and hope to be able to present to the public soon. Keeping taxes low is another goal that we are always working towards. The past two years we have managed a 0% increase in property taxes. It’s unlikely we can continue that low, but we are trying our best to minimize increases and reduce the impact on residents while still maintaining service levels and our wonderful quality of life.

Reducing our debt by almost 10% in two years without raising taxes has been a challenge, but we have done it.

Contact information for all members of council is included on the back. This is a non-partisan production, and all members of council can take pride in what we have accomplished in the first half of our term. If you didn’t get a copy, or would like another, please contact town hall or drop in at 97 Hurontario Street. You can download a PDF version here.

4,902 total views, no views today

Another day on the job in Paradise… chapter one

Mayor QuimbyMayor Ralph “Bosco” Hearne, whistling softly “Everything’s Up to Date in Kansas City” under his breath, gazed at the wood-and-polished-brass, 19th-century front doors of town hall and nodded slightly in approval. He stopped whistling, paused, and breathed out a gentle sigh of satisfaction. The gleam of the brass was unobstructed; his view extended through the big glass window clear into the atrium and to the back with its veined marble wall without a single thing to distract it. A few short minutes and the doors would open; town hall would be bustling with staff; residents would come and go, doing their municipal business, checking tax records, buying dog tags. Yet at almost 8:30, with the sun already peering onto the main street, there was no one waiting to be let in; no one tapping impatiently at the glass trying to attract staff’s attention; no one pacing nervously in front of the doors and muttering darkly at the inability of staff to tell time.

Any morning that began with an empty entranceway promised to be a good day for Mayor Hearne, because any day that began without an early morning encounter with Caroline Rune was a morning to enjoy. Meeting her always involved a tirade led into a slew of accusations about how he and council were trying to destroy not only the town, but the region and even democracy in general. Not seeing her waiting for him gave him hope he would not develop one of those nail-in-the-temple headaches before noon. He could keep the whiskey locked up in his desk drawer until at least mid-afternoon. It could, just maybe, be a normal day in town hall, maybe even in all of Neuville.

He looked up and down the street, a little nervously, expecting any moment to see a harridan in full flight coming towards him, but the sidewalk was empty, except for old Nick Charnley slowly sweeping in front of his bookstore; his daily exercise, after which he would retreat behind a desk and remain there until closing, nose deep in a book.  And down further a young couple were emerging from the doughnut shop with hands full of coffee and sugary delights, laughing. A few pigeons pecked at the curb, undisturbed by the noise and bustle of pedestrians that would soon develop. Another day in paradise. Mayor Hearne smiled and stepped towards the door, fumbling a bit for his keys.

Before he could retrieve them, inside, a dark figure coalesced from the shadows and waved in his direction. He saw only the silhouette, but he knew who it was. Janet Sparling, the mayor’s executive assistant. She opened the door, smiled, and took his briefcase from him, then glanced hurriedly up and down the street before closing the door with a satisfying snick of the lock.

Hearne and his assistant exchanged sly smiles at the empty streetscape. No one said the name; no one wanted to invoke the demons of bad luck and thus draw down on them the fury of Caroline.There was, after all, a hurricane once named Caroline and it caused only a fraction of the havoc the local one had wreaked upon the town staff.

“Morning, Janet,” Hearne said, and headed to his corner office with his assistant tailing behind. His Blackberry buzzed at his waist, but he ignored it. “Anything up today?”

“Nothing much this morning. A meeting with Tony from the developers’ association at 10, something about east end servicing. Andy wants to speak to you about the waste water plant and I’ve got him in at 10:45. I think he wants money for an upgrade. I told him he should wait until for budget before bringing it up, but he insisted. Kelly is coming at 11:30 to discuss a library issue, something about personnel, probably wants more front desk staff because Judy is retiring this year. And then you have a ribbon cutting at noon for the new hair salon on Barricade Street. But nothing booked until 10, so I pulled out the county report for you to go over. They want it reviewed by council before the end of the month.”

Janet’s idea of “nothing much” was usually a day where meetings were scheduled to allow bathroom breaks between them, but little else. For her a busy day meant overlapping appointments, a slate of crucial decisions that had to be made within minutes, and photo-op commitments until at least 8 p.m. All without the breaks. Lunch, if he was lucky enough to grab it, would be a toasted bagel, usually received cold, then shovelled into his mouth between meetings or in his car, rinsed down by enough coffee to keep half the town jittery and awake for a week. Janet lived to fill his schedule. For her an hour without a scheduled event was a personal failure to fulfill her job requirements.

“But this afternoon is a bit busy,” she continued, following him into the office and putting his briefcase on his desk as the mayor looked at the full inbox with a frown. The county report was bulging over the sides. “You’ve got the police services board about the upcoming police contract talks at one, at 1:45 the mall owners are coming in. They want to you to lower their taxes so they can attract more businesses. At 2:30 the downtown merchants have a petition about pigeon control they want to present at the next council meeting. And the animal shelter wants the town to pay for more dog runs. They’ll be here at 2:45. Then at three, you have to present a certificate for 25 years in business to the Smalleys at their clothing store. Not the secondhand one on Wine Street, the one on Carson. And then the paper wants Sean to interview you about the condition of the bridge over the Beau River. I have that scheduled for 3:30. But I’ll bet he wants to sneak in some questions about your brother’s trip to Florida last winter. Betty overheard him saying something at the coffee shop last week and she thinks he plans to phone the condo office to find out who paid for it. After that the planning department wants…”

“Don’t you ever stop to take a breath?” Hearne interrupted, and then laughed when she looked hurt. “Sorry. I sometimes wonder what a day without a crisis, a crucial meeting that couldn’t be postponed, or a ribbon cutting would be like. Have I got time to call the flower shop and order something for my anniversary this week?”

“Already done. A nice arrangement. I asked them for something tropical, maybe some ginger blossoms and a bird of paradise or two. Tasteful but not too expensive. I used your credit card. The personal one, of course, not the town’s. Don’t want to upset you-know-who. I’ve also booked you and the missus at the steak house for dinner at seven, but you’ll have to leave by 8:30 because the Presbyterian church has a service to pray for peace in Somalia and they expect you to be there. So that means just one glass of wine and no liqueur afterwards.”

“You always amaze me, Janet. You’re so efficient that one day the dictionary will have your picture instead of a definition of the word. Thanks. Let me get started on this report before the masses start to line up. Are there any staff comments to go along with it, or am I on my own?”

“The rec department report is attached, and planning sent an e-mail…”

She never got to finish. The words got caught in her throat by a screeching, “A ha!” from the hallway that made the mayor’s teeth hurt and dogs within a quarter mile perk up their ears ready to bark. Caroline Rune had arrived, unseen and late, but certainly not unheard. “There you are! Mayor Hearne, I know what you and council are planning for the old Brown property and if you go ahead, I promise you there will be hellfury and damnation.”

“Morning, Caroline,” said Hearne, trying not to roll his eyes and shake his head. Janet put a hand to her mouth, and debated within herself whether to step between them or flee to her own office. The choice was between ignoble flight and putting her hands, at least metaphorically, into a raging blender. She chose flight, and, nodding apologetically at Hearne, scuttled past the woman in the doorway to the safety of the hallway beyond.

“Won’t you have a seat?” Hearne asked, resignedly, feeling the edge of that headache creeping up and pressing on his temples. He pointed at a chair across from his desk, then rubbed his temples with small circular motions. “Perhaps you could tell me what you think we’ve done so I can set the record straight and get on with my day’s work.”

“I don’t think,” the woman replied as she stepped towards the chair, then sat down heavily. “I know.”

Hearne gave her a tired smile, refusing himself the opportunity to make a wisecrack at her statement. Once upon a time he had had a crush on Caroline Rune, back when she was Caroline Crumby. Back in the school days, those hormone-filled teen years, so long ago. When he still played football, and he didn’t pack the oversize midriff he sported these days. Back then Caroline, to his testosterone-laced jock brain, was a hottie. Back then Caroline didn’t dabble in crystals, astrology, UFOs, or politics. Back then Caroline didn’t build conspiracy theories out of every council motion or bylaw.

She was still a slim, attractive woman, with shoulder-length brown hair and a shapely figure for her age. As long as you didn’t look at her eyes, didn’t look into the slightly wild and whirling pupils, you might still be attracted to her. Until, of course, she opened her mouth. Once that happened, you entered a world that belonged in Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone. Or the X-Files. Something not quite connected with reality. A fantasy of lies, conspiracies and accusations in which Mayor Hearne played a leading role.

For Caroline, everything was a conspiracy. From changing the parking rates to zoning amendments, she saw the dark hand of evil forces at work, saw the local branch of the Illuminati pulling the strings from the shadows. In an age of vampire pop, Hearne was her Nosferatu.

As he lowered himself into his leather chair, Caroline was busy digging into her purse. She pulled out a sheaf of papers and waved them at the mayor, the rustle of the sheets loud in the room.

“I mean to file these today. I will find out what you’re doing. And once I do, I will tell everyone about your plans. I will tell the press. I will post it on Facebook. I don’t care what it costs. People have to know.”

Freedom of Information requests. A dozen, maybe more from the look of it. She filed at least that many almost every week, so many that the clerk’s office kept a supply of them with her name and address pre-printed, just for Caroline’s unceasing demands. But this week she looked like she would outdo herself in filing. She tucked the papers back into her bag and settled back with a satisfied smile, waiting for the mayor to respond.

“Okay, Caroline, I give up,” he said. “What have we done now? Last I recall, we were entertaining a request to re-zone the property so a developer could build a strip mall out on the east end of town. It’s all been done in public meetings. The Brown family sold the land after the old house fell down, and the new owner wants to change it from residential to commercial zoning. What’s wrong with that? Residents in the east end want something nearby so they didn’t have to drive into town just to get a bag of milk.”

“You can’t pawn me off with some lame excuse, Ralph Hearne. I know what’s going on. You and that cabal you call a council have been offered a lot of money to turn the east end into a resort and casino development. Once you get this foothold, you plan to expropriate all the homes along the waterfront and sell the land to developers. Of course you’ll get a kickback. Then you will take your wages of sin and buy properties in Bermuda or Barbados so you can live in luxury while the rest of us have to deal while the effects of crime, social degradation and gambling addiction decimate our community.”

“Come on, Caroline. That’s a bit of a stretch, even for you. We’ve got an application for a convenience store, an oil change shop, and a fishing tackle place. That’s a pretty long way from a casino and resort. You couldn’t fit a motel on that property, let alone a resort.”

“It’s just a smokescreen,” she replied. “I know you’ve been meeting with people from the government about building a secret casino. Lobbyists, too. There are rumours of big commissions being paid. Hush money to local real estate agents. I know what you’re planning. You’re going to make your brother manager, too. Keep the money in the family.”

“Caroline,” Hearne said, trying to smile but feeling it rise to a grimace. “Peter isn’t going to be manager of anything. He already has a job and he’s looking at retirement soon, not changing careers. No one’s proposing a casino or resort for the east end. I wish they would because we could use the taxes and jobs. But this is just a small strip mall, nothing more sinister than that.”

Nothing more? It’s a foot in the door for organized crime. The next thing you’ll be privatizing the road and turning the whole area into a gated community for crime lords and millionaires. Private facilities. Private clinics. I know what happens when they get a foothold. You want to make us into Las Vegas north. I will fight you to the bitter end, Ralph. I will file my Freedom of Information requests today so I can make it public and warn people about you.”

“It’s your money,” Hearne said, resignedly. “But you might want to save it for at least a week. We haven’t even approved the zoning change. Until then, there’s nothing much we can give you.”

“Wait?” Caroline snorted. “So you can direct staff to hide the records and falsify the reports like you always do? Not on your life, Ralph Hearne. You can fool others, but not me. I can file now and later. That way you won’t be able to hide anything.”

“I’m not trying to fool you, Caroline. I’m just trying to save you some money. But it’s yours and you can spend it anyway you wish. Did you get anything from the last requests you filed, the ones about the ice rink?”

Caroline glared at the mayor, then glowered at the doorway where Janet was seen fleetingly peering into the office. “You know I didn’t. You’ve got everything too well hidden.”

“I could have told you we weren’t planning to buy a fleet of helicopters for council’s personal use. It’s not something we could hide in the budget. Besides, where would we put  a dozen choppers?”

“Don’t patronize me, Ralph. I still believe you plan to put them in that tent you’re building over the ice rink. Why else would you want to cover it?”

“It’s not a tent, Caroline. It’s a high-tech architectural membrane structure. A tent is something you go camping in. And we wanted to cover it so kids could skate year-round.”

She sniffed. “Call it what you like. Might as well call it a bubble. We know it’s just another boondoggle. You’re building a hanger for your helicopters and your jets. No child in this town will ever skate inside it.”

Jets? Where’s the runway? Don’t we need a runway for jets?”

“Oh, you’ll build one, I know you. You’ve got plans to bulldoze all those houses on Lane Street so you can fly to your mansion in the Caribbean. You think we don’t know about this? That’s why you prevented Doctor Basildon from opening his clinic there. You need the space for your runway.”

“Caroline, Caroline,” Hearne muttered. “Where do you get these ideas? Basildon started building his clinic without permits, in an area zoned residential. We had to stop him from breaking the law. It was a minor delay for his own sake. We don’t want to have to charge him. We went out of our way to make it easy for him to get his paperwork in order and finish the construction.”

“You have not. You forced him to pay usurious charges for the privilege of creating jobs and paying taxes. You want to bankrupt him before he even opens his doors.”

“No, we don’t. He has to pay the same development charges and permit fees every other developer has to pay for a commercial property as per our bylaws and the county’s rules. They’re not secret. If he had applied for a permit before he started building, he would have known about them.”

“You could have given him an exemption as a medical clinic. It’s a necessary service. After all, you said we need the jobs, and the community desperately needs his medical services.”

“No we couldn’t. The province doesn’t allow us to bonus any private business. Even if we could, half of the charges are the county’s and we have no control over them. Besides, he’s a chiropractor and we already have more of them than we have doughnut shops in this town. A few extra weeks won’t make a lot of difference to our general well-being.”

“You are such an ignorant man, Ralph Hearne,” she snuffed. “It’s a wonder you ever got elected by anyone who can read. But we’ll change that, next election. For your information, Dr. Basildon is bringing the latest in proven alternative health services here. We will be the centre of a health care revolution in this province. The healing energy radiating from his site will cure everyone within miles, even if they’re not his patients. Think of the money everyone will save from not having to go to the doctor or hospital once he opens. We’ll be able to close the hospital in a few months. Of course that means you won’t be able to get your under-the-counter payback from the Ministry of Health any more.”

“Caroline, the ministry doesn’t give me a dime. You already looked into that, what, two months, three months ago? Basildon is planning to put in a hot tub with big magnets and crystals around it. The only thing that will change is the direction compasses point and a few lighter wallets. I don’t think the hospital will be able to close very soon.”

“Not like you’ll ever know. You’ll be flying to Antigua or Tortuga or some island paradise with the money you get from developers and crime lords long before he ever opens.”

“If I do, I’ll be sure to send you a postcard. Now is there anything else you need from me? I have several meetings today and need to read this…” He gestured at the county report in his inbox. “…sometime very soon. I’d like to get it started before I’m too old to lift it.”

“Your phone records. I want to see your phone records.”

“We’ve gone over this before, Caroline. You filed that request already and got them.”

“But the numbers were blanked out. You’re hiding them.”

“Like the clerk told you, the numbers are private and we need the permission of the caller to show them. We have to respect their privacy.”

“You think you can hide those calls you make to Antigua and your bank in the Bahamas? We’ll find the truth. You won’t get away with it forever. I’ll keep filing requests until the truth comes out.” At this she pulled the sheaf of papers out of her purse and brandished them at the mayor again.

Hearne sighed. “You do that. That’s the wonderful thing about living in a democracy. No one can stop you from spending your money on lost causes.”

But Caroline wasn’t listening. She was already on her feet and halfway out the door by the time he finished speaking. She headed in the direction of the clerk’s office. A few seconds later, Janet stuck her head in the doorway, looking sheepish. “Can I get you a coffee? Maybe a cookie or a doughnut?”

“Thanks, I could use the coffee. But I better pass on the dessert.” He patted his bulging midriff. “If it’s not too late, call the clerk’s office and warn them Caroline is on her way.”

“Already done. They have last week’s requests for her ready to go.”

“The ones about why we chose the heritage paint colours for downtown?”

“That and the correspondence on the shape of the new wayfinding signs.”

“That’ll be rivetting reading. I’m always tempted to drop in some hints about being abducted by aliens into my emails to staff and council. Give Caroline and her circle something to gnaw on for a while, the proof they’re always looking for. Council is controlled by aliens. The truth is out there, so they say.”

“Didn’t she already file for that when she got your automobile mileage reports? Something about travelling to Nevada?”

“Yeah, looking for unexplained trips to Area 51. I can’t keep track of all my secret meetings with the aliens and crime lords. I’m glad you manage my schedule for me. I might end up in Bogota when I’m supposed to be in a spaceship.”

Janet smiled, then vanished, heading briskly towards the front door and the coffee shop a few doors away. Ralph watched her go, briefly thought about going home and getting back into bed, then picked up the heavy county report and started reading.

…to be continued…

3,791 total views, no views today

Mayors Under Siege: Why Laws Must Change

Toronto Mayor Rob Ford is planning to appeal the recent judicial decision that ousted him from office for failing to obey one of the basic rules of municipal governance. In fact, during the hearing, he admitted never having read the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, one of the key pieces of legislation that govern municipal politicians, even once during his decade on council.

Superior Court Justice Charles Hackland wrote a 24-page decision that called Ford’s  “wilful blindness” inexcusable, and said:

“It is difficult to accept an error-in-judgment defence based essentially on a stubborn sense of entitlement (concerning his football foundation) and a dismissive and confrontational attitude to the integrity commissioner and the ‘code of conduct’.”

Ford, of course, blames the “lefties” for his own failings. Coming out of court, Ford said:

“This comes down to left-wing politics. The left wing wants me out of here, and they’ll do anything in their power to (do that).”

Ford’s charge is merely a tawdry attempt to dissociate himself from his own responsibilities (and failings), and to attack his political opponents on the basis of party platforms. Partisan politics easily obscure truth and reality through such tactics. Party followers are more willing to believe the platform than the facts (as in the recent US presidential election where the Democrat candidate was labelled a “socialist” by the Republicans).

Ford’s churlish comment also became a much-repeated joke in the Twitter-verse, but on CBC radio, I also heard people interviewed on the street repeating the same inanity, as if the judicial system was hostage to left-wing politics because they found Ford guilty.

Ford timeline

Ford also commented,

“I’m going to fight for the taxpayers of this city like I always have. The calls are coming in fast and furious, telling me to fight it, telling me to run. I’ll never give up fighting for the taxpayers.”

No: Ford is fighting for his reputation and his political career. That is not a fight for the taxpayers (ask yourself which taxes are at risk by Ford’s absence). It is disingenuous to try to associate a personal battle with something for the greater good. The electorate is not fooled by it.

London Mayor Joe Fontana has been charged by the RCMP with fraud, breach of trust by a public officer, and uttering forged documents. He has refused to step down while the charges are investigated, despite attempts by London council to ask him to do so. A non-confidence vote – more symbolic than effectual – was passed by a committee and comes to the council table soon.

Fontana is innocent until proven guilty, of course. Unlike Ford, he didn’t try to blame others for his problems, and declared his innocence. And we should not automatically assume any guilt while the investigation continues. He did, however, refuse to step down until the legal process is completed:

“I’ve been given a mandate by the people of London. People call me every day saying they like the work I’m doing as mayor.”

The mandate given by an electorate is to serve the people, not serve personal or even party agendas. Every mayor has to live up to a higher standard than the electorate, and treat the office with respect and honour. The job comes with some serious responsibilities to act in a manner that reflects those expectations and upholds those standards. The mandate is not simply about taxes or promises: it is about leadership.

When the public feels that the mayor sullies the office, the mayor is seen as rejecting that mandate. Ford and Fontana are treating it like it is their right to stay on and continue, not a privilege granted by the electorate. They are separating themselves from those they are expected to lead and guide.

Ford was removed from the mayor’s chair by a judge because there is no mechanism in the Municipal Act for either a council, integrity commissioner, or the public to remove an elected politician from office outside the courts. Fontana cannot be removed, regardless of council’s vote (and council is only asking him to step aside (with pay) during the investigation, not resign) and the motion is simply symbolic. Fontana can legally ignore it.

These tales of mayoral woe pale in comparison with the ongoing revelations of kickbacks and corruption in Quebec that caused  Montreal Mayor Gerald Tremblay and Laval Mayor Gilles Vaillancourt to resign in the face of public outrage and police investigation. And today I heard that Winnipeg’s mayor, Sam Katz, faces his own conflict of interest challenge. Mayors are always in the spotlight and cannot hid from the media’s attention.

All of these are examples of poor judgment, arrogance, ignorance and often a misplaced sense of entitlement, these mayors act as if they were both above the law and above public expectations. What they fail to acknowledge by denying wrongdoing and blustering their own defence is that, although mayors only have one vote at the council table, they fill a role that is far more important than a simple councillor.

Mayors have symbolic power as the figurehead at the head of the table; they speak for the municipality. It’s not simply a ceremonial role; they are perceived in the public eye as being both the spokesperson and the role model for the entire community. And a mayor who loses the respect of the community can also polarize the community against the entire political and bureaucratic structure (as we discovered here, last term). The electorate loses confidence in the very process of governance when it loses confidence in its mayor.

What the Municipal Act lacks is any mechanism to either unseat or recall a municipal politician. Not even an integrity commissioner can do that – as in Ford’s case. Nor is there any method for a council to express non-confidence in a mayor or hold a mayor accountable for his or her acts. Voters cannot recall a municipal politician and only have the election to make a statement of displeasure. That’s a problem that can only be resolved by the provincial government putting some enforceable accountability into the act.

3,245 total views, no views today

Do We Need a CAO to Run Town Hall?

Peter Principle cartoon
One of the comments in a rather lengthy letter presented to council recently was about hiring a CAO. The author demanded a “panel of qualified citizens appointed by an independent body* to oversee the recruitment, participate in interviews and the transparent selection process to fill the vacant position of Chief Administrative Officer for the Town of Collingwood.”

Aside from being wildly out of context in a letter ostensibly about local recreation facilities, that non-sequitur underscores a common misunderstanding about the nature of municipal governance and bureaucracy.

Many municipalities have CAOs or someone in that position – sometimes called a City Manager. However, there is no requirement in any provincial legislation for the town to have a CAO or any top-level administrative manager. We are legislated to have a clerk and a treasurer, period. It is entirely at the discretion of council whether to hire anyone else.

The old, but traditional, pyramid-shaped hierarchical management model has widening steps of management and staff descending from a single leader at the top. It may seem logical to have one person at the apex, but that’s more likely out of custom than out of necessity. Other models of management work as well, if not better (see below) in the public sector.

Reading far too often of the malfeasance and greed of corporate CEOs during the recent economic recession and downturn, especially in the financial sector, has considerably eroded any remnants of respect for the top dog position in the private sector. After working in several large private organizations based on that model, and having known and interacted with five town CAOs in the past 20 years, I am not convinced it is the most effective model for bureaucratic governance.

Having a single person at the apex of the municipal management pyramid means that person is the sole fulcrum for the interaction between council and staff. All of the planning, strategizing, communication, policy making and implementation roles are gathered in one person. Council’s direction and wishes are focused through the interpretation of that one person, too.The CAO is boss, yet also subservient at the same time.

Personalities can easily affect the relationship (both between CAO and council and CAO and staff). It requires someone who can put personalities aside, rise above the political milieu, and take on the often uncomfortable role as an objective conduit between council and staff, while trying to meet the needs and expectations of both the town and the transient politicians (a group which changes every few years).

It’s a difficult balancing act, one fraught with stress and potential conflict. It needs wisdom, patience, a Buddha-like calm, a good sense of humour, and a thick skin. Not everyone is suited for the political pushmi-pullyu role of municipal CAO.

Moving upwards in an organization is like being a juggler: you try to keep more balls in the air with every level change, until you finally reach the point at which there are either no more balls to add, or you can’t keep up everything you have in play, so you can’t move forward any more.

The Peter PrincipleIn every organization (including many municipalities), some top managers rise to their position because the promotion escalator is an automatic mechanism that gives people the opportunity to rise within the ranks based almost entirely on seniority. Basically, if you can sit there long enough in these companies, you’ll get promoted: sitzkrieg to reach the top salary slots.

As a result, some people rise to levels outside their particular skill set, experience or comfort level and fail in their new role. This is known as the “Peter Principle“:

…in an organization where promotion is based on achievement, success, and merit, that organization’s members will eventually be promoted beyond their level of ability. The principle is commonly phrased, “employees tend to rise to their level of incompetence.” In more formal parlance, the effect could be stated as: employees tend to be given more authority until they cannot continue to work competently. It was formulated by Dr. Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull in their 1969 book The Peter Principle, a humorous treatise, which also introduced the “salutary science of hierarchiology.”

Dilbert cartoon
This is complemented by the rather more cynical and caustic “Dilbert Principle“:

 …companies tend to systematically promote their least-competent employees to management (generally middle management), in order to limit the amount of damage they are capable of doing. In the Dilbert strip of February 5, 1995 Dogbert says that “leadership is nature’s way of removing morons from the productive flow.” Adams himself explained, “I wrote The Dilbert Principle around the concept that in many cases the least competent, least smart people are promoted, simply because they’re the ones you don’t want doing actual work. You want them ordering the doughnuts and yelling at people for not doing their assignments—you know, the easy work. Your heart surgeons and your computer programmers—your smart people—aren’t in management.”

Sometimes people are promoted just to get them out of the way. Dr. Peter also described this in his book, calling it “percussive sublimation”:

…the act of kicking a person upstairs (i.e. promoting him to management) to get him out of the way of productive employees.

He also described the “lateral arabesque” in which an

…incompetent worker is moved laterally or to another location with possibly a longer title.

So where does someone with ambition go after he or she reaches the top rung of the particular job ladder in a municipal organization? Usually to another organization or municipality where there are either more opportunities to move upwards, or where the pay and benefits are better (usually, but not always, associated with increased responsibilities). A lot of top municipal executives have a short (3-5 year) work span in any municipality as they work their way upwards.

Others may stay in place once they reach their topmost rung because they like the community and want to stay; others stay because they have been promoted outside their level of competence and have nowhere left to go. There they act as an anchor on the entire organization, making change, growth and innovation more difficult.

It’s difficult to decide who will best fill such an important role as CAO. Sometimes the apparent best choice in an interview turns out to be unsuited for their new position only after they have settled in; fulfilling the Peter Principle.

In the Forbes Magazine article, Seven Habits of Spectacularly Unsuccessful Executives, author Eric Jackson identifies:

Leaders who are invariably crisp and decisive tend to settle issues so quickly they have no opportunity to grasp the ramifications. Worse, because these leaders need to feel they have all the answers, they aren’t open to learning new ones.

Apparent decisiveness, he suggests, can mask a myopic, self-centred viewpoint. 

Jackson also lambastes, those who “ruthlessly eliminate anyone who isn’t completely behind them”:

…CEOs who think their job is to instill belief in their vision also think that it is their job to get everyone to buy into it. Anyone who doesn’t rally to the cause is undermining the vision. Hesitant managers have a choice: Get with the plan or leave.

The problem with this approach is that it’s both unnecessary and destructive. CEOs don’t need to have everyone unanimously endorse their vision to have it carried out successfully. In fact, by eliminating all dissenting and contrasting viewpoints, destructive CEOs cut themselves off from their best chance of seeing and correcting problems as they arise.

I’;m sure you’ve known the “my way or the highway” types in your own past. I certainly have, and can list several companies that have ceased to exist because of this monolithic attitude.

For entrepreneurs and the Mitt Romney-CEOs, for the dog-eat-dog capitalism of corporate warfare, for those whose whose egos demand they be in control all by themselves and damn the underlings, this hierarchy seems the logical path to take because it can lead to ultimate, sole-sourced power.

A truly competent person may rise to the top in this environment, but there’s an equal chance that an incompetent person does – as Jackson’s article details.

This escalator-style corporate management model may not be the most appropriate for a municipality which should really be a cooperative, rather than competitive, environment. Municipalities have very different dynamics than private sector business.

 Ideally, every CAO or top-level manager should have a wide range of skills (as per enotes.com):

Regardless of organizational level, all managers must have five critical skills: technical skill, interpersonal skill, conceptual skill, diagnostic skill, and political skill.

However, it’s unlikely any single person has all of these in sufficient supply. Not to belittle anyone who has held that role, but these skills are big shoes to fill. While a good manager will delegate some responsibilities to those who have the complementary skills, it’s not easy to release the reins of power once you’ve been given them.

That’s where team management comes to the fore. A team can supplement each other’s weaknesses by providing a mix of skills, talents, and personalities to strengthen the group: a gestalt, where the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts.  As also noted on enotes.com:

A team is a group of individuals with complementary skills who work together to achieve a common goal. That is, each team member has different capabilities, yet they collaborate to perform tasks. Many organizations are now using teams more frequently to accomplish work because they may be capable of performing at a level higher than that of individual employees. Additionally, teams tend to be more successful when tasks require speed, innovation, integration of functions, and a complex and rapidly changing environment.

Another type of managerial position in an organization that uses teams is the team leader, who is sometimes called a project manager, a program manager, or task force leader. This person manages the team by acting as a facilitator and catalyst. He or she may also engage in work to help accomplish the team’s goals. Some teams do not have leaders, but instead are self-managed. Members of self-managed teams hold each other accountable for the team’s goals and manage one another without the presence of a specific leader.

This is like the model Collingwood has taken and, in the months since we implemented it, it has proven far more successful than anyone imagined. To be clear: the position of CAO is technically not vacant: Council appointed Mr. Ed Houghton in April as Acting CAO (he currently does so without any additional remuneration, by the way). However, he serves as the team leader, the catalyst, rather than the overlord.

Others on the executive team include the town’s treasurer (Ms. Leonard), our clerk (Ms. Almas), and the Collus Director of Operations (Mr. Irwin). These four people pool a considerable wealth of experience, talent and perspectives.

Teams are essentially mutually-supportive, multi-tasking units, whose members have the ability to deal with multiple issues and activities simultaneously, yet work on collective goals. The group approach parallels current social trends being played out online, in social media. As Luc Galoppin writes:

Successful organizations are those who are aware of that shift and tap into the new literacy of collaboration that social media has brought us. The result is a new balance between hierarchy and community that is called social architecture… We still need hierarchy and control to get things done. The only difference with the old days is that control will only get you half-way. The Industrial Revolution is over. Today, getting things done requires an extra layer on top of hierarchy. We need to re-wire our organizations and tap into the potential of communities, tribes, movements, problems and solutions. Each of these communities wants to be hosted. And you need those communities to get results in today’s economy.

Netage.comGaloppin makes some salient points about the shift from the traditional hierarchy to a more community- or tribe-based based management, one in which influence and collaboration replace the old “command-and-control” structures. In that sense, Collingwood is ahead of the curve because we have already moved beyond the traditional, but often fragile, hierarchical models.

What we have done is de-layer the old hierarchy and empower the middle-level management. In doing so, it seems a traditional CAO position is proving to be a redundant level of management and unnecessary bureaucracy we can afford to eschew. We have one less level in the decision-making process, but more decision makers. And yet our expenses are lower.
Department of Redundancy Department
In a study of delayering management practices, P. Kettley wrote,

Central to the new model of organisation in the 1990s is a flatter structure, achieved by a reduction in the number of layers in the management hierarchy. Such a structure is becoming synonymous in popular management theory with bureaucracy busting, faster decision making, shorter communication paths, stimulating local innovation and a high involvement style of management…

For some, the achievement of such savings is the primary objective of their restructuring initiative. For others, a flatter structure is the route to freedom from bureaucracy, speedier communication and the development of a customer focused culture in which team working and high involvement working practices will thrive.

A flatter organisation is achieved in several ways. First, by the elimination or automation of management activities and the subsequent redundancy of those posts performing them. Second, as the result of unnecessary and costly overlaps of accountability being identified and reallocated.

Whether or not this will continue to be the model for town management, I can’t say. I can only observe that it has proven itself in the short time we have operated with it and I would be hesitant to vote to return to the older, less collaborative and certainly more expensive model with a CAO alone at the top of the pyramid.

Council has also expressed its collective support for this inclusive, team-management, collaborative approach. Town hall is functioning better and more smoothly than I’ve ever seen it in 20 years. Staff morale is high and the relationship between Mr. Houghton’s team and council is excellent. There is no need to go to the expense or effort to fill the role with an outsider.

~~~~~

* As for the group’s unrealistic demand that outsiders determine staff requirements, the right to appoint or dismiss senior staff rests solely with the elected council. Under the requirements of the Municipal Act, personnel issues cannot even be discussed with those who are not authorized by the legislation. The Municipal Act does not allow a group of unelected citizens to control the actions of elected representatives or staff with regard to hiring personnel or to determine staffing levels.

6,272 total views, 15 views today