This city council has an opportunity to bring about the changes that are really needed at city hall.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

February 11th, 2019

BURLINGTON, ON

 

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With power in her hands – Mayor Meed Ward has an opportunity to really lead.

When newly elected Burlington Mayor Marianne Meed Ward had the Chain of Office placed around her neck on December 3rd, she told the audience that she had some news she would release the following day.

The next day city hall announced the dismissal of city manager James Ridge.

Commisso alone

Interim city manager Tim Commisso.

While there was a Deputy City Manager, this new city council wanted an experienced city manager in place and entered into a short term agreement with Tim Commisso to serve as an Interim City Manager for a period of six months and announced that council would begin the process of finding the next full time city manager

Burlington has gone through four city managers in an eight year time frame.

Former Mayor Rick Goldring dismissed Roman Martiuk. The city then hired Jeff Fielding who left the city of London to come to Burlington.

City manager Jeff Fielding is about to significantly reorganize the senior levels at city hall. will Council let him do it?

Former City manager Jeff Fielding did his best to significantly reorganize the senior levels at city hall. When a better offer came along he left.

City staff needed time to get used to the energy and drive that Fielding brought to the city. After less than two years a head-hunter discovered Fielding and introduced him to Naheed Nenshi,  Mayor of Calgary – those two were a match made in heaven.

Fielding resigned and the city was once again looking for a city manager. They brought in Pat Moyle, who was a retired CAO for the Region of Halton to Burlington.

Moyle saw the city through the August 2014 flood and kept the city on track while the search for the next city manager took place.

Council settled on James Ridge who came to Burlington from British Columbia. Ridge was a good fit for the Goldring council; – he wasn’t a fit for then ward 2 Councillor Marianne Meed Ward.

Ridge 4

City manager |James Ridge defined his job as protecting his staff rather than holding them accountable. In one memorable memo he told staff that he “had their backs”.

Ridge is reported to have told a person he knew well at city hall that if Meed Ward won he would not be the city manager for long. That proved to be true.

There has been no word yet on if there have been any meetings on what the process of looking for a new city manager will be.

In a detailed book on the Premiership of John Robarts, who was Premier from 1961 to 1971, Steve Paikin reports that in 1968 Robarts “created one of the most important advisory bodies in his entire premiership.”

John Robarts - one of the best Premiers the province ever had: knew how to balance a budget.

John Robarts – one of the best Premiers the province ever had.

Robarts had been convinced that the province had grown to the point where it needed more qualified people in its senior ranks and created a Commission on Government Productivity that helped set the framework for an administration that has served the province exceptionally well.

The Commission wrote ten reports and lasted well beyond Robarts’ years as Premier. It submitted ten reports.

The Gazette is not suggesting that Meed Ward and her council create a commission that takes a decade and writes ten reports but she might want to give serious consideration to looking for outside advice on what the structure of a municipal government should – could look like in these changing times.

The last time any advice was given to Burlington’s city hall it didn’t get much in the way of a professional reception.

Shape Burlington logoThe Shape Burlington report set out what was wrong with city hall and what was needed in the way of change. Written by John Boich and former Mayor Walter Mulkewich who were served by a board of advisors, Senior city hall staff at the time didn’t want the report published – that wish wasn’t granted – they then wanted some changes in the wording.

Jogn Boich - co-chair of the Shape Burlington Committee died in 2011

John Boich – co-chair of the Shape Burlington Committee died in 2011

Asking the late John Boich to revise strongly held views was not a wise response. In terms of culture and the way city hall has chosen to serve the public that pays them – here hasn’t been much of a change. City managers have taken the view that their role is to protect their staff rather than consistently hold them accountable for the quality of the work they do.

It should be possible to find a consulting firm (not the one that foisted that 25 year Strategic Plan on the city), to do a comprehensive report in three months and then meet with council to expand on their views and recommendations.

city hall with flag poles

There is an opportunity to change the way city hall is currently organized – too many silos as well as significantly change the culture. Shape Burlington was the start.

If the city is  ever going to get to be run properly they might as well take the time to do it right. There are structural issues that need attention and there are cultural issues that need to be worked on.

Let us not make this a missed opportunity.

Salt with Pepper are the views,musings and opinions of the Gazette Publisher.

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1 comment to This city council has an opportunity to bring about the changes that are really needed at city hall.

  • Mike Ettlewood

    You have provided a good and thoughtful perspective on the current situation. There is a rare opportunity today for City Hall to be opened up, programs made understandable to citizens, performance made transparent and staff made both accountable and visible to the clients they serve. There are a number of readily available exemplars in the form of other jurisdictions that have adopted ‘open government’ reforms to make the bureaucracy responsive/understandable to the public, to greatly improve client service, to reduce unnecessary processes and boost overall function. I would hope that this Mayor and this Council would look for best practices in other jurisdictions, as they exist quite close at hand – Toronto, Hamilton and Oakville to name just three. Similarly, I would expect that Burlington might want to beg, borrow (or steal) the directly applicable expertise that is at hand, both in other municipalities and right in our own backyard. However, to date (and it is early days), the signs have not been overly positive. Simple reforms such as staff contact listings, clear organizational charts and simple program guides remain on the ‘to do’ shelf. More substantive improvements such as performance dashboards, responsive reporting and feedback vehicles and effective self-service portals are not even referenced. Indeed, the COB website remains one of the worst and most difficult to navigate of any municipality in the GTA (IMO). And recent staff additions appear to focus on communications and social media without any marked improvement in these areas either. Time will tell whether this is the watershed Council many had hoped for. Early indications are not promising.

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