Three-Teaming at City Hall?

In a Daily News Story (City ‘running out of time’ to upgrade dams) on June 26, two Council “teams” were identified: One made up of our new Mayor, along with one veteran and two newbie Councillors (Brennan, McKay, Pratt and Thorpe); and the other with two veteran and three newbie Councillors (Bestwick, Fuller, Hong, Kipp and Yoachim).

This unfortunate situation, pretty obvious to all who watch Council closely, is bad for City Government: bad for Staff, bad for our Councillors and bad for the citizens of Nanaimo.  Council’s job is to serve all of the Community and the squabbling of multiple teams does not accomplish this end.

It’s not that any of these people are bad, but we are looking at a new Mayor who had no previous mayoral or, to the best of my knowledge, any senior executive experience, three experienced Councillors with known track records. one newbie with years of serious active experience and a track record at Council, and four newbies who I, with years of attendance at Council, do not recall having seen regularly at Council before the election began, nor seen them as delegates on major issues or heard them raising issues at question period before they were elected.  This does not, of course, mean that they have no experience… But it does mean that they are prone to all the difficulties of those who suddenly find themselves at sea without a working compass and must rely on the older seamen among them.  This brings the Council experience count to be four to five or five to four depending on one’s interpretation of Mr. Fuller’s experience over the last ten years.

What has become apparent is that for whatever reasons, the four newbies have aligned themselves, two each, into the two team structures which were visible in the last Council but have been exacerbated in the new.  They might be characterized as the “I’m all right, Jack” team which sees little reason for changes in the course set by Staff which the City has been taking relative to projects and budgets over the past decade, and the “we were elected to set policy” team which sees a stronger role for Council in the leadership structure of the City and actively seeks to get there.  It will be noted that these two views both focus on the role of Staff.

Further, the dynamics of a five to four split in Council, particularly where the Mayor seems to be among the minority of four after campaigning on a platform which seemed to represent alignment with the views of the majority five, lead to a delicate imbalance which tempts the players, including Staff, to play games with issues which reflect the priorities of the three “teams”.  Issues like the Colliery Dams which have cost the City heavily in money, in time, and particularly in aggravation seem to come forward in “surprise” reports and vote counts which may be based on who may be absent for a meeting. The last such meeting was called for the absence of a quorum for an unscheduled meeting called by the Mayor.

Were you surprised on Friday the 3rd to find a 93 page addendum added to a one page agenda which came out on Tuesday for a meeting which was previously unscheduled and which found the, now usual, 3 pm in-camera meeting taking place at one location, the 4;30 pm agenda scheduled at another location, and the addendum which has been scheduled for the same meeting but held at another location (The Shaw Auditorium in the VICC), which is where I propose to show up at 4:30 on Monday, July 6.  (The hardier administration watchers will probably show up at 3pm outside the Douglas Rispin Room in the VICC to see if any glimpses of the in-camera meeting might escape.)

Our Council, supposedly informed in agendas developed by the team of the Mayor and the City Manager, are too often beset by incomplete reports and the addition of last minute agenda items on major policy issues.  The frustration brought about by these conditions, as any who have watched Council meetings particularly since the last election,  has led to a serious deterioration in the lack of respect shown by our Mayor and Councillors for one another.  Respect can only develop in an environment of trust.  It is my belief that the orgy of misrepresentation which started with the grand schemes surrounding the development of the Conference Centre and from there, through many other actions, to the debacle of the Colliery Dams have led to a lack of trust, which, in turn, has led to a lack of respect. Respect is, among equals, a quality that must be earned.  It is not simply a perquisite of office.  Things will not be well in Nanaimo until trust can be restored in the professionalism of our Staff and the integrity of our Council in representing the entire Community on the major issues facing us in an increasingly uncertain world.

The much awaited CORE REVIEW of our city services and finances offers a major opportunity for resetting the trust/respect equation in Nanaimo.  I hope that Council, Staff and especially Citizens all recognize that the importance of this undertaking is not just about services and finances, but about the future direction of our Community.  It may be the last best chance we have to set a clear path into our future rather than simply waiting for some miracle to come our way or increasing the purchase of “lottery tickets” to bring development to Nanaimo.