Almost a year ago, I posed the question: why is the interim CAO still working for Collingwood? After his behaviour and aggressive, disrespectful grilling of the hospital board chair and foundation head, March 27, 2017, that question has even more significance.
And, you might ask, why hasn’t council dealt with it? After all, his behaviour reflects on them – and poorly.
The interim CAO’s relationship with the mayor is at best strained, at worst abrasive and unproductive. In a recent email she accused him of bullying and suggested he resign. Councillor Lloyd has made similar comments and recently blocked his emails. The last time the interim CAO’s contract was extended (at $226,000 a year), it was a 5-4 vote, suggesting a loss of confidence in him even among his former supporters.
How can any CAO operate effectively if at odds with one or more of his bosses? If he or she doesn’t have the full respect and support of all of council?
I have been copied with emails sent among residents and even some sent to the local media and council chastising the interim CAO for his behaviour, calling his tactics bullying and aggressive. This is not the way the town’s top bureaucrat should be seen by our residents. It is not the way ANY top bureaucrats should behave anywhere. Or should I say misbehave?
In an email sent to the mayor and council, one writer commented: “The CAO should be instructed to be more deferential to the Chair during the meeting. We did not regard his conduct to be very professional last evening.”
One letter to the local media about the evening noted in general the tone towards the bureaucrats at the meeting: “Nobody likes to be lectured to by high-priced consultants or government officials, especially when it appears to any reasonable person that the real motive is to further slow down and obstruct the hospital decision-making process. And making matters worse, we all know that it is us, the taxpayer, who is paying for most of those speakers and their underlying work.”
There were more remarks I won’t repeat, but they continued the general sentiment.
While some of these emails were private, several were sent to or shared with council, but not to the interim CAO*. However, in his follow-up email to council, one writer noted a troubling trend when he received a response:
…on the day following my email I received an email from the CAO, Mr. Brown, inviting me to call him to discuss his role at the meeting on Monday evening. I was somewhat surprised by Mr. Brown’s email and his invitation to call him because my email was not addressed to him. I am curious how an email sent by me to the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and Councillors gets to be placed in Mr. Brown’s hands for reply or comment. If I wanted input from Mr. Brown I could have and would have included him in the list of recipients of my email. Are Mr. Brown and Town Council not on the same page on this very important issue?
That isn’t the first time I’ve read or heard similar comments about the interim CAO’s intrusion into conversations he was not included in. Whether it is staff or councillors sharing with him, whether they do it for brownnosing or fear, it is not the interim CAO’s role to speak for the town or to respond for others when not asked to do so. That is disrespectful of the individuals and the process.
The public needs to be able to believe in and trust its bureaucracy. If these comments reflect how the town’s senior administrator is perceived by the public, it suggests a serious disconnect that must be fixed. If for those in the community who attend to local politics, the interim CAO has no credibility, that will not be changed while he is in office.
Yet he remains in his office. Literally, since he almost never leaves it to visit the community or town facilities outside town hall.
So I ask again, why is this man still employed by the town? The process to replace him has already started. Shouldn’t he be put on administrative leave to avoid more unrest? To avoid influencing what should be a neutral process to replace him? And it should be done NOW to avoid further problems or erosion of confidence.
Look at the record this term. With the interim CAO at the helm, this town has:
- Ruined its relationship with our utility partner, PowerStream;
- Lost the opportunity to participate in Alectra; the merger of four LDCs (including PowerStream) into the largest energy corporation in Canada;
- Ruined its relationship with our local Collus staff;
- Ruined its reputation with the employees at our own water/wastewater utility;
- Driven several top, key employees to resign or quit – including some provincially respected, honoured staff who have been recipients of many awards;
- Ruined its reputation with the local hospital, the hospital board, and its supporters;
- Ruined its reputation with our municipal partners on the water pipeline in South Simcoe;
- Damaged its reputation with the Ministry of Health and Long Term Care;
- Damaged its reputation with the Ontario Energy Board (OEB);
- Damaged its reputation with the Ontario Lottery & Gaming Commission (OLG);
- Damaged its reputation with our neighbouring municipalities who are partners on the airport board, hospital board or customers of Collus-PowerStream;
- Caused two groups of employees to unionize because they were concerned about the direction taken by town policies and their job security, although they had refused to unionize for many prior decades;
- Almost doubled the number of municipal staff of the Sunshine List (salaries >$100,000);
- Raised taxes three times in three budgets despite having surpluses that negated any need for tax increases;
- Wasted millions on sole-sourced lawyers and consultants simply to advance negative perspectives;
- Operated an inefficient, redundant and expensive standing committee system that only alienates the public from its local government;
- Exchanged an economically beneficial, efficient shared services agreement for expensive, inefficient, municipal staff;
- Hired a sole-source consultant to manage taking IT services from the efficient, inexpensive Collus-PowerStream agreement, and oversee hiring new town staff to do the same work at considerably greater cost than before;
- Handed out sole-source jobs and contracts like party favours to consultants and lawyers;
- Mysteriously lost the promised $750,000 annual savings from taking over the water utility and instead added huge expense to the town budget in doing so;
- Engaged in secret negotiations to privatize our water and wastewater services with out-of-province corporation EPOCR without any public consultation;
- Sent out RFPs to sell our share in our electrical utility to a secret group of companies without informing the public why, who the companies were or what the terms of the RFP were;
- Rejected an offer from our partner, PowerStream, to purchase the town’s share of the electrical utility without public input or consultation or even explaining why it was rejected or what was offered;
- Did not consult with partner municipalities about the sale of the share of Collus-PowerStream or the airport although both affect them;
- Fired its own integrity commissioner because the investigations into councillor’s ethics were embarrassing and public;
- Held more closed-door meetings to discuss what should be public issues, and decide on the future of public facilities, services and utilities without any public input, than any other council in the past 25 years.
And for two and a half years, The Block and the administration have consistently blamed everyone else for their mistakes, failures, and bad decisions. They never take responsibility for what they have done.
Now to be fair, The Block of Seven have to take a lot of the credit for every loss of respect and reputation, for every disastrous policy and initiative, for every of the many public relations failures we have suffered this term. The interim CAO cannot be blamed for everything. After all, as Hamlet said, “God’s bodykins, man, much better: use every man after his desert, and who should ‘scape whipping?” But shouldn’t the top administrator be advising his bosses against their destructive and vindictive policies and initiatives? If he didn’t, was he instead advising them to follow what has proven a disastrous path for this municipality?
And think of all the positive achievements, the initiatives for the greater good this term: nothing. The legacy of this council is both toxic and tragic.
I am neither psychologist nor psychoanalyst, so I cannot comment with authority on what drives anyone to be unbending, abrasive and disrespectful. Whether is is the stereotypical “short man syndrome” a sense of self-righteousness, divine authority, moral superiority, or simply malice, I don’t know. Maybe it’s compensation for low self-esteem. Or a fear of change – the phobia that motivated VOTE and still drives hospital4collingwood. The interim’s CAO motives baffle me.
Some leaders no doubt believe inflexibility is a sign of strength. Some believe that being bellicose will force others to respect them. Some that you can bully and abrade your staff into compliance. Archie Brown, in his superb political analysis, The Myth of the Strong Leader writes,
There are many qualities desirable in a political leader that should matter more than the criterion of strength, one better suited to judging weightlifters or long distance runners.These include integrity, intelligence, articulateness, collegiality, shrewd judgment,a questioning mind, willingness to seek disparate views, ability to absorb information, flexibility, good memory, courage, vision, empathy and boundless energy.
Those desirable traits are what we should be seeking in a permanent CAO.** I question – seriously question because I have been part of the process and seen its flaws and flawed results – whether hiring a top administrator should be solely a job for council and the town’s HR director.
Why not create a panel of citizens from the great wealth of experience and intellect in the community to help develop the job description, to help screen and interview candidates, to suggest what traits should be considered? After all, few on council have any real world business experience, fewer have any experience in personnel issues, and most have less than a full term of political experience. Should these amateurs make such important decisions for the whole community in a vacuum of knowledge?
But do we even need a CAO right now? A single top boss to rule over the rest? It’s not a legal requirement (only a clerk and a treasurer are required by law in a municipality). Perhaps we should consider a collaborative leadership, along the lines of the highly successful and efficient system instituted by Ed Houghton when he was interim CAO. A form of cooperative delegation among department heads that generated respect among staff. As Archie Brown continues,
…the leader’s advertised strength is often an artifice or illusion… the more power and authority is accumulated in just one leader’s hands, the more that leader comes to believe in his or her unrivalled judgment and indispensability. The more decisions are taken by one individual leader, the less time that person has for thinking about the policy and weighing up in each case.
Perhaps the best way to avoid the issues and problems that have plagued this process in the past, and to choose an administrator who appeals to the general public not simply a small cabal at the council table, is to make it a community engagement. Or better yet, dispense with hiring anyone now and let the next council make the decision. ***
* Those sent to council can be accessed by a Freedom of Information request through the town, but be prepared to battle the culture of secrecy entrenched in town hall which resists sharing information with the public. One tactic to deter residents from seeking information is to set exorbitantly high fees for access. I was charged $60 for two pieces of paper, and have a bill for $75 for four more and one for almost $300 for what should be about 20 minutes of work.
** Entrepreneur Magazine ran a story on the eight signs of a bad boss. These included:
- Lack of empathy
- Fear of change
- Too willing to compromise
- Too bossy
- Poor judge of character
- Out of balance
- Lack of humility.
Similarly, Success.com has a list of 15 traits of a terrible leader:
- Lack of Transparency
- Not Listening
- Dismissing Ideas Other Than Your Own
- Valuing Experience Over Potential
- Working 24/7
- Lack of Empathy
- Forgetting About Leadership Development
- Being Overly Conservative
- Permitting Negative Gossip
- Poor Communication of Strategy
- Assigning Blame
- Being Too Slow to Adapt
Forbes also has a good piece on bad leaders with categories like, “Beware the know-it-all, it’s all about them, a failure to communicate,” and so on. It’s worth reading these articles and others like them, and making your own checklist as to what we should avoid in a permanent CAO.
*** I realize that community engagement of any sort is a hard sell to The Most Secretive Council Ever, a group that scurries away from making decisions in public and avoids public consultation as if they were meetings of ebola carriers.