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

Advertisements

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.

DISCLOSURE

Disclosure, in the world of law enforcement, is the term used to describe the requirement for the prosecution to disclose all evidence that they have in their possession, to the accused. Nothing can be held back and if it is, the case can be seriously compromised.

As a former police officer I was familiar with the disclosure requirement. I was required (as are all police officers) to make a copy of all notes taken during an investigation. Disclosure packages included copies of police reports, documents, photographs, and everything else that would be used in the prosecution of a person charged with an offence had to be provided to the accused. Disclosure applies to all types of offences from homicide right down to parking violations and everything in between.

Going back a step in the process, before a police officer can even begin to process a charge against a person, the police officer has to have reasonable and probable grounds to believe that an offence has been committed. The grounds to believe that an offence has been committed must be clearly articulated and those grounds are subject to examination by the court. You can’t just go out there and charge a person with an offence without have grounds to do so.

Fast forward a few years to the situation that I am facing with the local municipal government. In March 2014 the reeve of the municipal council of the RM of Shellmouth-Boulton sent me a letter barring me from attending the council office. The letter dictates that I refrain from all types of communication (in person, by telephone, email, etc.) with the office staff. The letter demands that I route all communication to the office through a particular councillor. The justification provided for this action, as started in the letter, is that my repeated attendance at the office demanding information is making the staff uncomfortable. I have challenged the former council on the justification for this letter and these conditions and have gotten nowhere. I have tried to find out exactly what it was that I did that warranted this action. I will admit that I did repeatedly attend the council office requesting information. Where else was I to go to get information such as by-laws, minutes and agendas for council meetings except to the council office? The information was not available anywhere else. They did not even have their own website and the website that they used was frequently outdated for the information that I required. The CAO is required by law to provide this information. When she failed to provide it, I persisted. What else was I to do?

Given the fact that their stated justification that my repeated attendances, requests and demands for information made no sense, what else was being said to justify this banishment? I asked both the former council, and now the new council, to hear my side of the story and to tell me what their side of the story was. They have failed to tell me anything else.

This creates an interesting situation. Police officers, dealing with people who they have reasonable and probable grounds to believe have committed an offence, are required to disclose all information in their possession to the accused. A municipal council on the other hand, can try and convict an individual and impose sanctions without any requirement to provide the individual with any details of the alleged infraction. In fact, when I questioned the new council on the continued sanctions, one of the councillors stated that they could not change the conditions because they did not have sufficient information to do so. You would think that the absence of information would have caused them to want to suspend this unreasonable action at least until they were sure that it was justified. Instead, they chose to continue my banishment.

I wanted the new council to consider my side of the story. I also wanted to hear the facts that they were given from the person(s) making the allegations against me. I wanted disclosure. It seemed to me that disclosure would be fair. Let’s put the facts on the table so that we can all understand what is going on.

I eventually secured a hearing with the new councillors at a special meeting held on June 24th, 2015. When this special meeting was convened the reeve changed the rules before we even got started. First there was no sign that the CAO or the assistant CAO, the two administrative staff that were apparently made to feel uncomfortable by my actions, were going to be present to explain what the problem was. In addition, council changed the conditions of the special meeting. They had agreed to hold this meeting to provide me with sufficient time to state my case and to answer questions. When the meeting started the reeve stated ‘Rod, you have one hour.’

If you have ever heard the term ‘kangaroo court’ this was one. My presentation was rushed because of the one hour time limit. At the end of the hour I was cut off. There was no opportunity for a question and answer period and I certainly was not given an opportunity to hear the case against me. If they had any discussion about what I told them or if they made any attempt to verify anything that I said, it was done in my absence.

I attended the next meeting of council only to have the reeve tell me that they would not make a decision on my matter as one of the councillors was absent. This is interesting. They had a quorum and quite properly made several other decisions despite the fact that this councillor was absent. But my matter was deferred to the next meeting of council.

At  that meeting , a resolution was presented to maintain the restriction on my access to the municipal office. Four councillors voted for the resolution and four voted against. The reeve delayed his vote until the tied vote was evident. He then cast the deciding vote in favour of maintaining my restriction. It was interesting to note that the councillor who was absent from the previous meeting was one of the four who voted to maintain my restriction. Had the vote been taken at the previous meeting with him absent, it would have been defeated. The resolution would have been defeated even if the reeve had voted along with the other councillors (as he should do in any case) because, according to their own Procedures By-Law, a tied vote is defeated. Only when a majority of the councillors voting for a resolution is that resolution passed.

The fix was in! The reeve delayed the vote until he had sufficient support to maintain the banishment.

The comment that the reeve made when casting his deciding vote is interesting as well. By way of justifying his decision to vote the way he did, the reeve stated that because of recent staff departures and in the interest of maintaining the integrity of the office (????) he was voting to maintain my banishment. It seems that the original justification –that my repeated attendances and demands for information etc. , had changed. It now appears that council was concerned that a staff member or members would quit if I was allowed to return. Could it be that they were blackmailed into maintaining my banishment with the threat that staff would quit if I was allowed to return? Were some of these council members so afraid of this threat that they refused to consider the facts of the matter? Is that why they withheld the other side of the story from me? Wouldn’t it be reasonable for them to try to come up with some other more reasonable solution to this mysterious problem?

 I have discussed this matter with a number of people. A lawyer friend told me that this action is not sustainable under law! Others are aghast at the heavy handed approach that the council(s) have taken.

The AMM Council Members Handbook, a guide for council members that is a condensed version of their responsibility under law, states:

“All citizens have a fundamental right to make a challenge to the Court of Queen’s Bench, if they believe that a municipality is acting outside or contrary to its legal authority…”

This publication advises that “Councils should make every effort to work with citizens to address their concerns, as ultimately, Councils are elected by, and accountable to, their citizens.”

I don’t want to take this matter to court but maybe I should. At least the allegations against me would be disclosed. But why is this necessary? Court action would end up unnecessarily costing the ratepayers a huge amount of money. Why doesn’t this council and its CAO try to do the right thing by being open and transparent with ratepayers rather than argumentative and uncooperative?

What we have here is a council that is going ‘all in’ with the ratepayers’ money. They are pitting the might of municipal government, funded by the taxpayer, against an individual who dares to ask questions and dares to stand up to them.

The Way I See It

There comes a time in life when we are in a position to  speak our minds. This is the privilege of life experience. I would not for a second suggest that once we get to a certain point in life we ‘know it all’. Far from it. The more I know today the more I realize just how little I knew yesterday. But I do think that it is important for us to share the knowledge we have and the opinions that we have formed from our experience in life.

Here goes….