City manager: The emails, the emails - they're killing him

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

May 21st, 2020

BURLINGTON, ON

 

The day to day operations of the city are in the hands of the Emergency Coordinating Group (ECG) which reports directly and daily to both the Councillors and the Mayor.

The ECG is a Committee of Council that operates under Council’s emergency management bylaws.

That group is in the hands of City Manager Tim Commisso (he co-chairs with Alan Magi – they rotate daily) they are ably supported by the best the city has in terms of administrative leaders.

Tim’s day start at a bit before 7:30 – and he is at it for the full day and at times into the evening.

His lens is his computer monitor and Zoom where he talks to the different sub groups that have been created,

Tim Commisso - finger up hard eyes

City manager Tim Commisso is facing the most challenging problem he has ever faced in his career.

He is tired – not burnt out – but there are limits on how long anyone can last.

Commisso has been around the municipal world much of his professional life so he knows the lay of the land – he has a depth of experience that is critical at this point.

There isn’t an issue that crops up every day that doesn’t impact on other issues – which is normal but with a COVID crisis going on the safety of the public becomes paramount.

And that public is not always that easy to serve. The bylaw problems with people who seem unable to understand simple basic rules that related to the way they had to handle their dogs in parks has been taking up valuable time.

Commisso faces financial pressures – revenue has gone to the rats – expenses keep climbing. The number of monitors the city had to buy for people working at home from lap tops wasn’t something that was budgeted for. Every communication, at least the important ones where a number of people are involved gets done on line. Three months of that without a high end monitor – not possible.

In an exclusive interview Commisso said the situation he faces is more difficult than anything he has had to deal with before.

The biggest problems is the emails “they never stop coming”

All the part time staff were laid off – 700 of them – when the shutdown of the city took place – now he has to begin calling some of them back; he has called back 92 so far and expects to have to bring back more.

Sheila Jones

Sheila Jones Executive Director of Strategy, Risk & Accountability

Dealing with the COVID based issues is prime – at the same time Commisso has Sheila Jones,  Executive Director of Strategy, Risk & Accountability working on the service re-design. COVID has taught the city that they will have to do things differently in the post COVID world.

Municipalities have always been the bottom rung on the political ladder; the crisis has ratcheted up the directions the province hands down and there are problems when what the province says publicly isn’t always fully reflected in the regulations. And in Tim Commisso’s world the regulations are the meat on the bones.

Normally the interaction with the Regional Public Health Unit is limited to some rabies cases and an outbreak of measles. Now Commisso has to be constantly aware of the reports that come out of the public health unit – if the number of new infections rise – he has to scale back some of the services, especially in parks and recreation or anything that involves people directly.

It is the minutia that keeps Commisso hopping from issue to issue.

By law person

Grant Ziliotto – Manager of Municipal Law Enforcement, Licensing and Animal Services

There are eight bylaw control officers, some are working 12 hour shifts on duty from 8 am to 11pm.

Ensuring that the team is functioning and being aware of those who aren’t doing all that well is a challenge. Every Commisso interaction is through the monitor where it isn’t always easy to catch the small signs that someone needs some help. “The BLT (Burlington Leadership Team) has proven to be a great resource – the managers can talk very openly about where the problems are in their domains and where the help is needed.

The stress is part of every day and at times, said Commisso, they have to figure it out on their own.

Keeping it all together is challenging – even more challenging for the administration is the really big decisions that will have to be faced once we are out from under the virus. No one really knows when that will be – the experts maintain that every pandemic the world has experience has had a second wave. Some in the medical world argue that we are not ready for a second wave of infection.

Commisso, who technically no longer reports to city council – he is working under Emergency legislation, is grateful for the way city Councillors have been supportive.

Those big decisions are going to land in the Council Chamber where they will rub up against budget constraints.

City hall - older pic

Changes to the first floor of city hall – hopefully it will be more welcoming.

Before the shutdown the city was in the process of creating a new Customer Support service – it was being centralized and designed to be more responsive and create ways for individuals to look in on the issue they had with the city and find out how it was progressing – all on line.

Commisso wanted a friendlier looking main floor at city hall and a better working environment for staff and more room – what was going to call for some construction.

There isn’t that much money available for anything new – Commisso and Treasurer Joan Ford are scouring the Reserve funds to see if there is a funding source and if that work can be done while city hall is closed.

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