Is it our job?

When I challenged my colleagues in my inaugural address for Guelph to set the standard for municipal governance in the province, I meant it. That will mean critically examining what we do, why we do it and how we do it. It is not like we have to do this in a vacuum. There is lots of experience, research and best practice to draw from.

Being clear on what isn’t our job can help.

We are sometimes asked to weigh in on issues that are outside of our control. These are always challenging and usually lead to lots of debate around the horseshoe. Do we have a legitimate advocacy role to play or no mandate at all? There is often no black or white answer and lots of opinions in between.

Even on issues clearly within our mandate, there can be misunderstanding as to our role – among members of Council, in the media and in the community.

For instance, are we elected to fight fires or serve as a paramedic? No confusion here. We have highly-trained emergency services personnel who fulfill these functions.

Is it our job to go to a road construction site and instruct staff where to put the safety barricades? Or what about driving around the city looking for by-law infractions and reporting residents and businesses to our by-law enforcement officers? Both true stories and both not our job.

What about designing a parking garage or a building like City Hall? While it might seem clear, I have observed similar lines blurred in the past. Council’s role is first to approve the project and then direct staff to”make it so”. That may involve Council hiring a professional team of architects and engineers to do the work if the specific expertise needed is not found on staff. Council provides input into the design criteria – and ensures the public has the same opportunity – but does not prepare the detailed design – even if there happened to be an architect on Council.

And what about designing transit systems or a transit terminal? The answer should be the same.

During its orientation in November, Council discussed their important role to supervise not manage. When this line gets blurred, by either Council or staff, good decision making is compromised. Sometimes the line is clear. Sometimes it is less so. Effective dialogue is essential to ensure we have a collective understanding of the appropriate role of Council and staff in decision making.

About Karen Farbridge

An unwavering change maker seeking a just, democratic and sustainable world.

View all posts by Karen Farbridge

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