Role of Council and CAO

My first real involvement in municipal government came as a result of the CAO of the former RM of Shellmouth-Boulton asking my opinion on amalgamation. She drew my attention to an unsigned document regarding amalgamation that had been circulated in the Inglis area. I found out that the document had been created without the knowledge and consent of the Shellmouth-Boulton council. It seemed that this was an initiative of the CAO and this, to me, was not appropriate for several reasons. The function of the CAO should be, in my mind, to administer the affairs of the municipality. Determining public opinion should be the role of elected council members.

Being new to the world of municipal government I was unsure of whether my opinion was accurate. In an effort to determine more precisely what the role of the CAO was, I asked for a copy of her job description. What I received was a copy of her Employment Agreement; the contract between the CAO and the municipality. This document contains terms including “The Employee shall well and faithfully fulfil and perform any and all duties reasonably requested by the Municipality…” but nowhere does it describe what those duties will be. How in the world can an employee well and faithfully perform duties if they have no clear idea of what those duties will be? The municipality had no clearly defined description of the duties expected of the CAO and, to the best of my knowledge, still does not have a job description in place for that position.

Recent events in the municipal office indicate that there is considerable confusion over the role of the CAO and the role of council in relation to its interaction with their administrator. This confusion has contributed to acrimony and dysfunction that is threatening the relationship between council and their employees and is potentially injurious to the well being of the municipality.

The current council has now resolved to create a policy regarding the authorization of overtime. Such a policy is long overdue. But this is not going to solve all of the problems that they are facing. They need to get a clear understanding of their own roles and they need to define the role of the CAO. Once they establish that understanding there may be hope of seeing improvement in the governance of this municipality.
Published in Russell Banner and Roblin Review


Council in Crisis

The former provincial government took a heavy handed approach when they forced the amalgamation of smaller municipalities. They failed to provide adequate justification for their decision and there was considerable resistance and resentment from some of the affected municipalities. That is not so say that there wasn’t sufficient justification for amalgamation. The province failed to ‘sell’ it to the municipalities. This resulted in questionable decisions as the municipal governments grudgingly proceeded to comply with the legislation.

When the Riding Mountain West municipality was created the two local municipal governments of the day acted in a similarly heavy handed manner. The municipality was created without meaningful public consultation. They failed to engage the public in the process and this has resulted in very little public ‘buy-in’. We are now seeing what happens when a governing body not only fails to seek public opinion but rams decisions through without the necessary support of its people.

It is surprising that municipal leaders in Shellmouth-Boulton reacted the way they did. After all, the municipality was created by the amalgamation of the Shellmouth and Boulton municipalities. The reasons for that amalgamation should have been seen as justification for another amalgamation. But the reasons for amalgamating the municipalities of Shellmouth and Boulton in 1999 seemed to have been forgotten in 2014. The rural population is shrinking. It is difficult to justify having one council representative for every 100 people in a municipality. It is difficult to justify having administrative staff to support the councils in the municipalities with sparse populations. It is also difficult to find enough motivated and conscientious people to take on council positions.

On March 20, 2015 a number of concerned citizens gathered in the council chambers in Inglis when a special meeting of council was held to discuss changes to the by-law dealing with councillors’ indemnity. During that meeting councillors were asked to speak in turn to provide justification for the increase in their indemnity. It was during this session that one of the councillors stated that he had no interest in running for councillor and had only let his name stand for the position when he was persuaded to do so.

This is a telling comment that indicates serious problems in the composition of our local government. Even with the amalgamation and increase in the potential pool of candidates we have councillors in position who don’t really want to be there. Can we really expect thoughtful and well researched decisions from individuals who are reluctant to hold office? And what effect does this have on other council members who are working hard to ensure that their decisions reflect the best interests of the whole municipality? It must be truly frustrating to realize that your vote on a matter that you have researched can be negated by someone who really doesn’t want to be there.

I applaud the efforts of the dedicated and hardworking individuals who are on council. They have committed time and energy that I did not think that I had to give. But, we have a council in crisis.

Looking to the future I think that it would be wise to seriously consider switching from the election of councillors based on the ward system to one where councillors are elected ‘at large’. This would allow a larger pool from which to draw candidates for council position who are both interested and qualified. It might also create a healthy competition for the available positions. That would help to ensure that council members keep the best interests of the whole municipality in mind rather than focusing on local interests.