Monday, July 20, 2015

Who Runs Cities - Councils or City Staff?

Has the bureaucracy usurped our elected officials?

The following few paragraphs are taken from "Investigations into investigations" by David Broadland and Daniel Palmer and published in FOCUS online. The story focuses on the Saanich spyware debate which has as one of the key players Mr. Andy Laidlaw who previously worked for the City of Nanaimo.

I find the conflict described between a Mayor who had been elected on a platform of reform and zero percent tax increases and the trouble he had with the city manager and incumbent councillors doing whatever they could to block his ideas for change, beyond troubling.

Jakeway—a mechanical engineer with an MBA who had cut his teeth in the pulp and paper industry—had been elected in 2011 on a platform of change and keeping tax increases at zero percent. He wanted to reform the budgeting process and make good on other election promises early in his term. But a strained relationship soon developed between Jakeway and senior staff.

He remembers strong opposition from Laidlaw, his bureaucracy and incumbent councillors. “In a lot of ways, Andy was like the eighth member of council,” Jakeway said. “I did not have a positive relationship with either of them [Laidlaw and Ciarniello]… My idea was to make change happen… They did everything they could to try to block those ideas and gave me no options.”

Both Laidlaw and Ciarniello told Focus that they disagreed with Jakeway’s characterization. Ciarniello said, “I took direction from the CAO and council.” Laidlaw said, “As city manager, I work for ‘council.’ The direction followed is subject to the collective decision making process of council. The mayor often had different viewpoints than council.”

Jakeway said he believes that entrenched bureaucratic opposition exists across local governments to elected officials who try to upset the status quo. “There’s a bureaucratic code that at all costs you protect the bureaucracy, and when something goes wrong, hang onto that bureaucratic code…At all costs, protect the bureaucracy.”


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