Top 10 Feature Stories for 2018
It’s no secret that there were many important issues on the table for Canada’s local governments in 2018. Municipal World’s top 10 online feature stories for the year provide some perspectives and insights on some of these issues (and what your colleagues were reading) … and perhaps just a hint about challenges still ahead. We hope you enjoy!
Is there an epidemic of municipal councillors behaving inappropriately? In recent years, news stories have told increasing tales of offside behaviour by councillors and heads of council toward municipal staff, fellow councillors, and the public. Offences range from yelling and disrespectful conduct, to demeaning language and sexual harassment. Although there are limitations in dealing with this issue, a municipality’s hands are not completely tied. There are some creative and practical solutions to effectively resolve these thorny and increasingly common situations.
While the public generally gets it right in terms of who they elect to public office, there are times when the results undercut the intent. Unfortunately, some communities fall prey to unleashed egos, who focus not on what is right with their new organization, but what might be less than expected. Such mayors quickly determine who is on their team and who is likely to be on the sidelines or ineffectual in their present role, and the results are seldom pretty. Is it not possible to elect a strong mayor and still have that individual feel comfortable with a strong CAO in the same room? Actually, it is. Many have found ways to make that work. However, it does require several attributes that are not common to all.
“Why?” is the first step to wisdom. It is possible to perform highly complex tasks by rote, with no knowledge of why we’re doing what we’re doing; but, the moment something unexpected happens, then we’re lost. Once our written script fails us, then we have none of the knowledge necessary to help us create a new one. On the other hand, if we know “why” we were doing what we were doing, then we at least have a chance of figuring out what to do in new circumstances.
Exactly how far is the provincial hand in the municipal pocket? We often hear that local governments in Canada get just 9 cents of every tax dollar. But how much of that is even a council’s to spend? One study found that just 9% of a municipality’s annual operating spend flowed from council decisions. So … how local is your local government’s budget?
As a new councillor, certainly, you will make mistakes. These can be embarrassing. These won’t likely get national television coverage on 60 Minutes, but certainly will surface in the local press. But, it helps if you can learn quickly from the old pros on council. They have the “street smarts” on how to be a politician. Learn from them. Remember the old adage, “Those who do not learn from the lessons of history are condemned to re-live them.”
Let’s be clear about one thing: the squeaky wheel, in and of itself, is not bad. In a functioning democracy, every taxpaying citizen should enjoy the right to raise their voice. The issue is when the prevailing leadership approach to decision making is simply to appease those squeaking the loudest. It is time to get beyond Squeaky Wheel Leadership and replace it with strategic, composed leadership. Good local leaders employ innovative techniques to engage their whole community – not just the Squeaky Wheels.
Canada’s municipal Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs) are a reflection of their country: vastly diverse. Even so, CAOs from across Canada share the same fundamental commitment to finding solutions, and building better communities and service-delivery organizations. The results of the 2018 Cross-Canada Survey of City Managers and Municipal CAOs, provides a snapshot of the views of municipal CAOs from across the country, and identifies some overarching trends that are worth examining.
One of the reasons a councillor is elected is often his or her ability or promise to give voice to issues. Most councillors are able communicators and prove that in their election campaigns. They have an ability to see an issue and its nuances and to land on one side or the other or both at once! In the case where the council has not yet taken a position on a matter at hand, a member of council has the right to weigh in with his or her opinion. But, what if the issue is now on the council docket? Does a member of council still have the same degree of verbal freedom?
In both the federal and municipal orders of government, only 26 percent of elected representatives are women. Among Canada’s mayors, that number stands at just 18 percent. Also, visible minorities only make up two percent of these elected officials. With women making up approximately 52 percent of the population, these figures demonstrate a concerning lack of representation.
The connection you make with someone over a shared challenge, or a shared passion, or a vulnerable feeling – inside or outside the office – may be the thing that keeps your relationship strong through challenging times or that allows you to come up with a splash-bang idea that propels your organization forward. But, if you don’t “let your freak-flag fly” a little bit and share the things that get you excited or grind you down, you’ll never know what might have built a bridge between you and your peers, community partners, or citizens.
These are just a few of the 2018 highlights, with more great content in the Municipal World Media Centre, too. Happy reading! MW
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