In her inaugural address to the new council Monday, Mayor Heather Jackson sent a clear message she is ready to embrace change at city hall.
A priority is the implementation of a communication plan, which would include a communication officer working out of the clerk’s department. Speaking to the Times-Journal, Jackson stressed this would not be a new hire.
“It’s certainly not a new position,” advised Jackson. “Wendell (CAO Wendell Graves) and I have been talking about how we can make this happen without adding to the staff. We’ve got somebody now who does most of those functions but it’s not in anybody’s job description.”
Look for the manner in which council conducts business during its regular meetings to come under review in the new year.
“In the weeks ahead we will be undertaking a review of our current committee structure that has seven separate committees, each chaired by a member of council,” the mayor pointed out in her address.
“A restructured committee system will allow for greater dialogue and transparency as well as remove any silos that are currently in place.”
And, it’s time to work in cooperative fashion with neighbouring municipalities for the common good, suggested Jackson.
“The city, Central Elgin, Southwold and all of our partner municipalities in the county will continue to meet regularly,” the mayor promised, “and maintain open and frank dialogue about joint projects that include sports fields, development of the eastside area, health recruitment, tourism and economic development and Ontario Works, to name just a few.”
She pointed to the new home of Elgin-St. Thomas Public Health as an example of the existing “excellent working relationship between us.”
While acknowledging the contributions of the departing aldermen, Jackson is obviously looking to work with a council where consensus is an attainable goal.
“I am energized and ready to take on the new opportunities in front of us. I know that council is with me. I will ensure the strategic plan of our community continues to unfold.”
This upbeat persona will be put to the test early in the new year when construction of a new home for the city’s police service appears again on the agenda.
NOT A PROBLEM
The mayor made reference to “the majority of new faces around the horseshoe” in Monday’s inaugural address.
An historic changing of the guard that results in a half-dozen new personalities charged with representing the interests of city ratepayers.
Could such a major change in the lineup have a negative impact on the flow of city business in the early going of this term?
Shouldn’t do, advise a pair individuals well versed in municipal politics.
“I think, in theory, that kind of renewal is necessary,” notes Matt Farrell, political science professor at Fanshawe College in London.
“The city has its own administration that will function no matter what. Every municipality has that kind of permanent staff.
“Council is the counter-balance to that,” Farrell continues. “The representatives of the thinking of the people at the current time. Between the two of them you’ve got the people’s appetite represented by the city council and the knowledge and expertise embodied in the people who work for the municipality. And that is where the business of the city gets done.
“The city staffers who know what can be done and how to do it and the representatives of the people who bring with them a new list of priorities every four years.”
Author and municipal consultant George Cuff agrees.
“I would take an optimistic approach and say it’s an opportunity to strike a new chord to determine where the city wants to be over the next five or 10 years.
“Every council is a new council,” adds Cuff, “so this notion of coming on as an incumbent as though that gives you a leg up or some advantage, I think, is vastly over-rated. My argument is everyone gets started off on the same page. You get a proper orientation and you will all be off to the same race.”
And that is the key, argues Cuff, a decent orientation as to what it means to be on council.
“I’m not convinced those are done very well. After every election there should be a good orientation for the new members of council. ”
Cuff offers an advisory on the working relationship between staff and a new council.
“The problem is, councils get elected and then staff often draw them to being staff by trying to give them too much information on what staff does. I would argue that is the exact wrong starting point.
“We elect council and we hire staff. Unfortunately you get some councillors who think they were elected to manage. The role of a council is to provide leadership and direction and determine priorities and resolve conflict.”
As an aside, Cuff led an orientation session with an incoming council some time back in St. Thomas. His books and articles, many of which appear in Municipal World, are well worth digesting.
POINT TO PONDER
With all the platform issues touted by the incoming council — jobs and employment, infrastructure, fiscal
management and a new skatepark for the city, to list but a few — what is the first request for motion to be
introduced Monday by newcomers Joan Rymal, Linda Stevenson and Mark Tinlin?
A move to drop alderman in favour of councillor.
And this will benefit St. Thomas ratepayers in what fashion?
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“The purpose of municipal government is to make the decisions that will benefit the long-term vision of our community, not simply make short, quick fixes. We are entrusted to represent the needs and interests of all our constituents, not just the personal interests of a few.”
Mayor Heather Jackson in her inaugural address to city council this past Monday.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.