Tuesday, September 23, 2003
CITY REPORT CARD COMING COUNCIL TO RELEASE RESULTS BEFORE NOV. 10 ELECTION
BY IAN MCCALLUM, TIMES-JOURNAL STAFF
St. Thomas voters will be the recipients of “a summation of how council has worked for the past three years” before they head to the polls Nov. 10.
Members of council Monday evening unanimously approved a motion by Ald. Sharon Crosby calling for a full and independent review of council and its working relationships at city hall.
The review will encompass the hiring practices of the corporation; violations of human rights by personnel of the corporation; the conduct of members of council; breaches of confidentiality by members of council, the administration and department heads, officers of the corporation and other staff; and the working relationships and interaction between council and the various levels of administration.
To be undertaken by the law firm of McCarthy Tetrault, the review will also evaluate the effectiveness of council, council members, the administrator, department heads and officers of the corporation.
McCarthy Tetrault’s areas of legal expertise include labour and employment and municipal government and Crosby’s motion instructs the firm “to retain such experts, if any, as it may think appropriate to carry out the terms of this full and independent review.”
The initial call for a review of council and staff dates back to April 28 when Jeff Kohler, then an alderman and now mayor, moved that “the City of St. Thomas undertake an independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas — and that until the review is completed the treasury department is to report directly to council until the matter is resolved.”
The motion was defeated on a 4-4 vote with Ald. Gord Campbell, Ald. Tom Johnston, Ald. Terry Shackelton and the late Ald. Ray Parks opposed.
Insisting she did not want this to be an election issue, Crosby’s motion originally called for the review to be completed by Dec. 15 of this year.
But Shackelton and Ald. Marie Turvey successfully pushed for a Nov. 1 release date on information specifically dealing with members of council, and that portion of the report is to be made public.
“It is imperative that this review comes back before the end of this term,” stressed Shackelton. “This should be a summation of how council has worked for the past three years so that the public can decide.”
“We do have problems here,” conceded Turvey, “and it is time they were looked at.”
The review follows a tempestuous month at city hall that saw former mayor Peter Ostojic step down from office Sept. 2 to assume a supervisory position with the city, a controversial management shuffle was scrapped a week later and last Wednesday Campbell met with police Chief Bill Lynch to discuss the possible investigation “of a serious breach of etiquette” at city hall.
Prior to the final vote, Kohler advised members “I believe we owe this (review) to staff.”
City administrator Roy Main echoed those sentiments by assuring council “you have the complete support of the department heads.”
The final tab on the review is expected to run in excess of $25,000 with the funds likely to come from the rate stabilization fund.
Wednesday, September 24, 2003
‘FRESH EYES’ ON COUNCIL
CROSBY ASSURES REVIEW WILL PEEK BEHIND CLOSED DOORS
BY IAN MCCALLUM, TIMES-JOURNAL STAFF
“What I want is a fresh set of eyes to look at some of the things we’ve done, and to look at some of our policies.”
One day after St. Thomas council unanimously endorsed her call for a full and independent review of council, Ald. Sharon Crosby talked with the Times-Journal about what motivated her to take this unusual course of action.
And she gave her assurance the review would delve into the nature of matters discussed in-camera and votes taken behind closed doors, a possible contravention of the Ontario Municipal Act.
The review, to be undertaken by the law firm of McCarthy Tetrault, will focus on hiring practices at city hall; violations of human rights; the conduct of council members; breaches of confidentiality; and the interaction between council and administrative staff.
Crosby’s action follows three unsuccessful attempts by council, dating back to April of this year, to seek consensus for an “independent review of human rights practices in the corporation of the City of St. Thomas.”
“If we had started this back in April it would have been done by now,” stressed Crosby. “All of a sudden we’ve got to get it started and done in a few weeks.”
Crosby insists it was never her intention to turn the review into an election issue, and her motion originally called for a Dec. 15 deadline.
But Ald. Terry Shackelton and Ald. Marie Turvey successfully pushed for a Nov. 1 release date on any issues specifically dealing with members of council. Additionally they won support from members for that portion of the report to be made public.
“Nobody knew I was bringing this forward except the mayor and I gave him fair warning,” explained Crosby. “I felt first of all the notice of motion (declared at the Sept. 15 meeting of council) should be very specific and I brought it into open session because I felt it was important.
Crosby says she is sensitive to growing complaints, within council and in the community at large, that too much city business is being conducted behind closed doors.
“I know if we’re doing a property matter or anything to do with an identifiable individual obviously we can’t pull that out (into open session of council) but things like whether we’re extending the closing date for the arena is a different matter.”
Under the Ontario Municipal Act, members of council may meet in-camera if the subject matter being considered falls into clearly defined subject areas including personnel matters about an identifiable individual, a proposed or pending acquisition of land, labour relations and litigation.
On Sept. 8, members met in-camera to discuss a target date for the opening of the city’s proposed twin-pad arena, clearly an issue that should have been dealt with in open session, argued Crosby.
“It’s like all this arena stuff, what is so hush-hush about that anymore? Once you have the discussion behind closed doors I prefer to take the vote out and do that in open session.”
In fact, under the Municipal Act all votes are to be conducted in open session “unless the vote is for a procedural matter or giving directions or instructions.”
When asked if in-camera meetings and votes conducted behind closed doors might be included in the McCarthy Tetrault review, Crosby assured, “I will bring it to their attention. I’ll make sure to check we are actually not taking votes behind closed doors that we shouldn’t be. I’ll promise you that.”
Above all, said Crosby, the review must restore public faith in a council rocked by controversy.
“I want someone to come in and go through the building and talk to people. If there’s a morale problem I want to know. And if we need changes made let’s make them. And if it comes out as a black mark against all of us then put it in front of the public.
Tuesday, November 4, 2003
CITY COUNCIL TROUBLES ‘ROOTED IN THE MIX OF PERSONALITIES’
BY IAN MCCALLUM, TIMES-JOURNAL STAFF
The “dysfunctional” St. Thomas council’s inability to operate in an atmosphere of sniping and internal power struggles was brought to the fore Monday in a damning report ordered by council itself.
The troubles, the report says, are “rooted in the mix of personalities … . The resulting lack of respect for others seriously undermined the effectiveness of council.”
It critiques and criticizes individuals and points a harsh finger at former mayor Peter Ostojic who it says was “lacking respect for almost all senior staff at one point or another during his term” and was “unable to effectively control council.”
Ostojic stepped down in September to take a supervisory job at city hall.
Among other points, the report on the operation of council and its relationship with municipal staff recommends altering the structure of council from eight members to seven, including the mayor.
The report, presented to members last night, was prepared by Chris White from the law firm of McCarthy Tetrault, as authorized by council on Sept. 22.
The findings of the report are based on individual two-hour interviews conducted with administrative staff, department heads and council members, including Ostojic.
The report concludes that all those interviewed agreed “this past term of council has been extremely troubled.” But as to the exact nature of that trouble or its cause “there was no agreement.”
There also was consensus that “this council was dysfunctional to a greater or lesser degree” and that virtually everyone interviewed “expressed a great deal of frustration with the situation.”
Identified issues include lack of respect between members of council; the revisiting of decisions of council; a lack of respect by council members for staff and/or their decisions; council’s “deadlock” on important issues; the lack of understanding as to the role of council members and council as a whole; the effectiveness of the current committee of the whole structure and the amount of business conducted in-camera.
Individual members of council were characterized as “hard-working” and “open to issues from the community” although Ald. Gord Campbell, Ald. Marie Turvey and Ald. Sharon Crosby were identified as “micro-managers” with the latter two prone to “re-visiting decisions” or unable to “move on from decisions.”
Turning its attention to administrative staff, White’s report notes the working relationship and interaction between council and city administrator Roy Main is “problematic” with concerns regarding “control” and “trust” and this is “a serious issue which must be resolved by the next council.”
Likewise the relationship between council and treasurer Ron Cutway, who is currently suspended with paying pending the results of an harassment investigation, is “troubled.”
Many of those interviewed who are identified as having difficulty with Main and Cutway are also identified as “considering the director of human resources, Connie Morrison, to be directly aligned with the administrator.”
In its recommendations, the report calls for the new council to pass a bylaw to decrease the number of councillors to six prior to the 2006 municipal election.
It also calls for the new council to be trained “in their duties and responsibilities jointly as a council and individually” and that they should be trained “with respect to the theory and technique of conflict resolution.”
The final recommendation calls for members of the new council to develop a mission statement based on the principles of fairness, integrity, trust and respect.
In conclusion, the report stresses “the recommendations will be of no value unless the members of the new council are prepared to implement them in good faith.”
The Times-Journal will look at the McCarthy Tetrault report in greater detail in a four-part series that begins Wednesday with the effectiveness of council as a whole.
The series continues Thursday with a look at responsibilities and effectiveness of council members.
On Friday, we’ll examine interaction between council members and administration.
The series will conclude Saturday with a look at the report’s final recommendations.
Wednesday, November 5, 2003
NEW BLOOD NEEDED: REPORT
PART 1 IN A SERIES BY IAN MCCALLUM
A “pull-no-punches” report that paints a disturbing picture of a “dysfunctional” St. Thomas council running down the clock on a “troubled” three-year term suggests the only solution may be an infusion of new blood.
The self-analysis was authorized by council on Sept. 22 and was presented to members Monday evening by the law firm of McCarthy Tetrault.
The report offers few recommendations and concedes the divisive issues identified in the 18-page document may be so deep-
rooted that the election of new personalities in the Nov. 10 municipal vote may offer the best solution.
Authored by Chris White, the report speculates “even if all aldermanic incumbents were re-elected, some new faces (filling the two vacant council seats) might well change the temper of the next council.”
Section three of White’s analysis deals with the fulfillment of duties and responsibilities and the effectiveness of council as a whole. Through interviews with members and city hall staff, augmented by a review of “two binders of newspaper clippings from the St. Thomas Times-Journal,” he identifies seven major problem areas that plague this elected body.
Lack of respect between members of council was seen as a serious, divisive issue and, in many cases, related to “rude personal conduct towards others.”
This issue extended to a lack of respect for staff and their decisions with the troubling revelation that council members “are very divided as to which staff members should be accorded respect by council.”
The revisiting of decisions by members, in particular determining a site for the new Valleyview Home for the Aged, has created an “inability for council to move on to new tasks.”
This, combined with the significant number of deadlocked votes on key issues, was viewed by many of those interviewed as “a significant failure” which resulted in the perception that council was unable to work effectively.
How council carries on its business has resulted in frustration for those members who are opposed to the current committee of the whole structure. Some feel this provides insufficient time to review, consider and question reports from staff prior to voting on recommendations.
There is also real division among members as to the amount of business conducted “in-camera.” But all agreed the issue of lack of respect shown by former mayor Peter Ostojic towards staff “becomes more evident and personalized in closed sessions.”
But perhaps the most damaging area of concern is the lack of understanding of the roles of members and council as a whole, with some individuals characterized as “micro-managers.”
And the perception exists that there has been a shift over the years “in the motivations of individuals who chose to run for council away from public service and towards personal interests or agendas.”
With so many disturbing problem areas identified, White’s report suggests the dysfunction of council “appears to have been rooted in the mix of personalities.” And that ultimately, the only solution “may be achieved through the introduction of new personalities in the council chamber.”
THURSDAY: The responsibilities and effectiveness of council members will be examined in the second story of a four-part series on the McCarthy Tetrault report on the work of St. Thomas council and its dealings with staff.
Thursday, November 6, 2003
CAMPAIGN FODDER: REPORT
BY IAN MCCALLUM, TIMES-JOURNAL STAFF
The author of a damning report that catalogues the litany of woes that have undermined the effectiveness of St. Thomas council warns the information could be used by candidates to “undermine” the position of their opponents in Monday’s municipal election.
Chris White, from the law firm of McCarthy Tetrault, portrays an atmosphere of sniping and internal power struggles that are “rooted in the mix of personalities” now on council.
He advises members it is his hope the timing of his report, as requested by council on Sept 22., is to provide voters with unbiased information which may assist them at the polls.
But he cautions, “it would be naive to expect that candidates (both incumbents and challengers), would not try to utilize this report as a tool to either advance their position or undermine that of their opponents.”
Part four of his report deals with the responsibilities and effectiveness of the members of council, although White is careful to note “it is not my job to grade members” as ultimately it is voters who will “provide them with their final evaluation.”
He assesses each member of council, excluding recently appointed Ald. Hugh Shields who occupies the seat left vacant by the death of Ray Parks, along with former mayor Peter Ostojic who stepped down in September to take a supervisory job at city hall. The overviews are based on the perceptions and opinions of members and city administration.
Mayor Jeff Kohler is seen as a consensus builder willing to listen to other views and considered by most as trying to make principled decisions. But there were concerns expressed by some that he is “occasionally too quiet on issues that are not of direct interest.”
Ald. Gord Campbell generates the “strongest opinions of those interviewed.” While viewed by some as hard-working, he was also characterized as someone “who attempts to intimidate others and personalizes debate.” Some feel he “micro-manages” at the council table and with staff outside the council chamber.
Ald. Sharon Crosby was praised for her interest in fiscal management and her lack of any hidden agenda. But she is viewed by many as a “micro-manager” with very detailed questions “to the detriment of the decision-making process” and unable to move on from decisions with which she disagrees.
Ald. Tom Johnston is seen as someone who strives to do his homework on issues. As a “rookie” member, some believe “his inexperience led him to rely too much on others in making decisions.”
Ald. Terry Shackelton is viewed as an independent thinker making decisions based on his research of issues and principles, although he can become “entrenched on his position.” Motivated to provide public service, he is “occasionally too quiet and unwilling to get involved with issues that are not in his area of interest or expertise.”
Ald. Marie Turvey is considered to be hard-working, caring and open to issues from the community. But she can be a “micro-manager” and one who continues to re-visit decisions of council with which she did not agree.
Ostojic’s strong desire to achieve goals for the city was seen by some as positive, but others felt he was “unable to effectively control or lead council towards consensus.” He was identified as “lacking respect for almost all senior staff at one point or another during his term.”
White’s report also recognizes the efforts of Parks, who died in June of this year. He was seen as being motivated by his desire to provide public service and his attempts to build consensus when council dead-locked on important issues.
Friday, November 7, 2003
SERIOUS ‘POWER STRUGGLE’
REPORT SUGGESTS VITAL INFORMATION ‘WITHHELD’ OR ‘TAILORED’
BY IAN MCCALLUM, TIMES-JOURNAL STAFF
The McCarthy Tetrault report, which lays bare the personal agendas, sniping and lack of respect among members of St. Thomas council, suggests information vital to the decision-making process is being “withheld” or “tailored.”
The document, authorized by members on Sept. 22, was presented to council Monday evening by its author Chris White.
It treats the performance of St. Thomas council and its relationship with city hall staff.
Part five of the report describes the interaction between council and senior staff as “troubled” and “problematic” and alludes to the seriousness of a “power struggle” between city administrator Roy Main and treasurer Ron Cutway.
In its dealings with Main, the 18-page document notes council has divided into camps “with most members holding strong and likely unshakable views about the administrator.” This difficult relationship “contributes to the problems experienced by council.”
White says the issues can be boiled down to “control” and “trust.” Those members who do not support Main believe “he exerts too much power and that he tries to control council’s decisions by withholding or tailoring the information provided to council.”
Meantime the “camp” that supports Main feels he is “performing his functions correctly and that he can be trusted to provide the correct amount of information to allow council to properly carry out their function.”
“This is a serious issue which must be resolved by the next council,” advises White.
In dealing with Cutway, the same divided camps exist creating another “troubled” relationship, exacerbated by the fact he has been suspended with pay pending the results of an investigation into allegations of harassment.
Those members of council who support Main, believe the treasurer should be subordinate to the administrator and report through him in the organizational structure.
But the camp that is not supportive of Main believes Cutway should have greater responsibility for reporting on financial matters directly to council.
While wishing to avoid generalizations, White suggests “the divisions amongst members of council have been reflected in a power struggle between the administrator and the treasurer.”
There is a similar, though not as volatile, division amongst members as to the advisability of retaining city clerk Peter Leack as an independent contractor following his retirement from active employment with the city.
Some members take issue with this situation, but White states “there is no indication that it has affected his working relationships or interaction with council.”
At the department head level, the interactions with council are not considered problematic, according to the report, with one exception.
The two camps that exist regarding Main and Cutway, also exist with respect to Connie Morrison, director of human resources.
Those members who are identified as having difficulty dealing with Main are also identified as considering Morrison to be “directly aligned with the administrator.”
The final McCarthy Tetrault report, to be delivered to council in mid-December, will deal directly with the performance of senior staff, but the findings of that evaluation are unlikely to be made public at the request of council members.
Saturday, November 8, 2003
IDEAS TO AID FUNCTION OF COUNCIL
BY IAN MCCALLUM, TIMES-JOURNAL STAFF
The McCarthy Tetrault report may hit hard on the shortcomings and internal power struggles of a “dysfunctional” St. Thomas council, but its author puts forth a minimal number of recommendations.
In presenting his report to council this past Monday, Chris White stressed his goal is to provide effective recommendations which, if implemented, should meet the test of improving the functioning of any subsequent council.
The report examined St. Thomas council operations and its dealings with city hall staff.
White noted any of the three recommendations, if implemented at the beginning of this council’s term, should have improved its functioning.
One of those, dealing with appropriate training for the new council that will be installed Dec. 1, has already been adopted but the other two may never see the light of day.
Following White’s presentation, members approved his first recommendation whereby the new council will be trained as to their duties and responsibilities jointly as a council and individually.
He stressed the training should be provided as early as possible and administered by acknowledged experts who have no prior relationship with the city or members of council.
The full day training session, to be held at a location in London, Ont., would come with a price tag of approximately $5,000.
The most contentious recommendation calls for the reduction in size of council to seven members from the current eight, including the mayor, in an effort to cut down on the number of deadlocked votes.
Exactly one year ago, council attempted that very same process with embarrassing results as Ald. Marie Turvey’s recommendation died on the table when no member would second the motion.
A subsequent motion to increase the size of council to nine members lost on a 4-4 vote with Ald. Ray Parks, Ald. Gord Campbell, Ald. Sharon Crosby and Ald. Tom Johnston opposed to the move.
It would appear the memory of that evening has long faded, as White suggests in his report that “in terms of whether the number should be reduced or increased, there were not strong feelings in most cases.”
In presenting his third recommendation, which calls for the development of a mission statement, White admitted it might be considered by some as “not a concrete step.”
The introduction of such a statement, based on the principles of fairness, integrity, trust and respect, “received near unanimous support,” according to White.
It would act almost as a constitutional document against which the policies, procedures actions and decisions of council and staff as they affect each other and the public can be measured.
In his concluding remarks, White admitted “it is not our expectation that our efforts in this regard (filling the mandate given to McCarthy Tetrault by council) will meet universal acceptance or approval.”
Furthermore, White conceded the recommendations will be of no value unless the members of the new council “are prepared to implement them in good faith and in pursuit of a desire to provide the public with selfless service in the best traditions of municipal government.”