Photo: Mill Creek Trail, Edmonton, Alberta

Asset management frequently surfaces as a strategic priority for municipalities, and it should. This aligns with good stewardship and the fundamental municipal purpose to maintain viable communities that thrive in the future.

Tagging asset management wording in the municipal strategic plan is not enough. Today’s municipal leaders have an opportunity and responsibility to chart the future course for their community. It is important that a local asset management strategy has corresponding bylaws and policies that actually accomplish goals to fund infrastructure.

Municipal leaders have some financial tools available to fund growth and plan for infrastructure replacement, such as development fees, off-site levies, local improvement taxes and other taxes. Though municipal financial tools are limited, municipalities can take steps to help themselves. Accessing grants from senior government is another key component to fund infrastructure projects since the magnitude of costs are far beyond the reach of municipal taxation alone.

The truth is that eventually some generation will need to bear the financial burden of infrastructure replacement. It is best to spread out the tax load to avoid desperate financial strategies where future leaders try to ‘catch up’ and deal with shortcuts from financially short-sighted past council decisions.

Here is another asset management article from Municipal World:

SAGE President presented to delegates at the 2019 SUMA Convention in Saskatoon, SK
SAGE President, Shari-Anne Doolaege addressed delegates at the 2019 SUMA Convention in Saskatoon, SK.

Keeping Council Out of the Penalty Box

Municipal council conduct has received heightened attention across the country and beyond in recent years.  In Canada, legislation has evolved to require a code of conduct or code of ethics bylaw for municipal councils in several provinces.

In the February 2019 presentation to SUMA delegates, SAGE president, Shari-Anne Doolaege draws on her municipal experience to help municipal officials to stay out of the ‘penalty box.’

Listen to the full 2019 Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) presentation: https://youtu.be/RpszVBsDWFY

Here are some of the presentation highlights:

  • Council Interactions: Support strong and respectful conduct among council members.
  • Council-Staff Interactions: Contribute to healthy workplaces, respect roles with the CAO as council’s one employee.
  • Council-Public Interactions: Ensure that the public is respectful when engaging with council. Engage constituents when they contact you (elected officials).
  • Is Government a Business? Government has a regulatory role with much broader responsibilities than transactions and generating a profit.  
  • Model Respectful Debate:  SUMA volunteers championed diverse profiles in a meeting simulation where they tackled exciting and contentious agenda topics related to a raceway, hosting the Olympics and closing an airport.

SUMA delegates participated in the SAGE Governance Workshop on February 5, 2019.

A Mountain Road

 

The All-Season Chairperson

The responsibility to chair meetings can be routine and uneventful when moving through calm topics on the agenda, however, the board ‘temperature’ can rise and drop rapidly when discussing stormy topics.

The meeting chair has a pivotal role to play in facilitating discussions and maintaining a professional tone during debate.  Facilitating discussion involves inviting comments from all board members at the table to ensure that each member’s position is heard.  The chair is expected to set a professional tone for the debate of agenda items and ensure that the meeting decorum remains civil and respectful.  This requires the chair to keep their own emotions in check. 

Stormy topics are expected in public service.  This is seen especially in local governments where the decision-making is so close to the people they serve.  During a contentious debate, the chair should not underestimate their own voice, position, and opportunity to set the tone.  Internally, the chair may be thinking, ”This is intense. Councillor opinions are all over the map!”  Do not let this unfiltered inside voice escape. Rather, project poise, show interest and frame comments positively, such as saying, “We can all appreciate the value of advancing the discussion on this important topic. This rigorous debate is helpful as we work together to reach a decision. Good debate leads to good decisions.” 

Council and board members can polish their persuasive arguments by: 1) Clearly stating if they are in favour or against the agenda item.  2) Providing reasons to support their position.  

Here is an example of clear councillor communication: “I will (or will not) be supporting the motion.  In my perspective… (state reason/s).” Stating reasons why a vote is cast a certain way is appreciated by the team and by the constituents who are represented at the decision-making table.  Conversely, it is puzzling to see an elected official remain silent during a debate and then see them vote against the matter at hand.  At times, it is important for elected officials to accept defeat on issues since local governments rely on majority-rule rather than a consensus model. 

An all-season chairperson requires tact to navigate through both calm and stormy issues.  Rigorous and respectful debate is part of a healthy leadership landscape as members try to gain traction and support for their positions.  Maintaining professional decorum amid stormy debate is where a council and meeting chair can truly shine.  In particular, a chairperson should never underestimate how highly their presence is perceived and the value of their own voice in both the words spoken and the tone of their message.

 

Shari-Anne Doolaege, MPA, Q.Arb, CLGM

President, Sage Analytics Inc.

Executive Regionalism

Consultation is necessary to manage regional issues and leverage opportunities.  Meaningful discussions are needed among leaders to develop a neighbourly understanding on important matters. Officials do not sit idle when another government’s action, proposed action, or inaction has the potential to impact their constituents.  Interdependencies lead to important discourse as officials at various government levels work through public issues. 

Executive Regionalism is the act of getting things done in a regional context using professional relationships and political capacity.  It is the art of local collaboration.  Executive Regionalism describes the collective actions of local officials and stakeholders who seek to advance public good in a regional setting.  Regional services such as recreation and emergency management are prime examples of shared service responsibilities and mutual benefits.  

Local governments are not mere underlings of the province. They are interdependent government partners serving society.  The agility and responsiveness of local governments is strengthened by the close proximity to street-level networks on the home front.  Stakeholders are consulted, and collaboration begins at the important information sharing stage leading to quality decision-making. 

Government interdependencies are inherent and will persist amid formal boundaries and jurisdictions.  Intermunicipal collaboration is now mandatory in Alberta following the October 2017 amendments to the Municipal Government Act.  Local officials who are serving during this council term have the responsibility to formalize shared services and the opportunity to address challenges with innovative and creative solutions.

 

Shari-Anne Doolaege, MPA, Q.Arb, CLGM

President, Sage Analytics Inc.

 

*This Blog is based on excerpts from the Executive Regionalism article written by Shari-Anne Doolaege and published in the Municipal World magazine in October 2013.  The full article is available here:  Executive Regionalism Article MW Oct 2013

SAGE team members were invited to Clearwater County, AB to facilitate the SAGE Governance Workshop on January 23, 2018.  County officials demonstrated their commitment to ongoing professional development and respectful decorum.  SAGE President, Shari-Anne Doolaege explained why she developed the workshop and emphasized that skills in respectful, professional debate can be taught.

Municipal New Year’s Resolutions

It is a new year with new rules. On the municipal front, 2018 rings in with many legislative changes rolling out through amendments to Alberta’s Municipal Government Act.  Here are some Municipal “New Year’s” Resolutions that are certain to hit the radar and agendas in every Alberta municipality this year.  This handful of governance changes barely scratches the surface on the scope of legislative changes.  I welcome municipal officials to comment and add other noble resolutions to this list! 

Intermunicipal Collaboration:  We will review shared services and costs and develop meaningful agreements with municipal neighbours to manage growth (s. 708).

Council Conduct:  We will develop or update our Council Code of Conduct Bylaw (s. 146.1) and abide by these shared expectations to promote healthy interactions.

Financial Planning:  We will develop a 3-year operating plan and a 5-year capital plan (s. 283.1).  The operating plan will show the impact of capital projects, such as operating costs and amortization.  The capital plan will reflect strategic priorities and show how capital projects will be funded.

Communication:  The Chief Administrative Officer will ensure that information provided to one elected official is provided to all elected official as soon as practical (s. 153.1).  We will develop a public participation policy (s. 216.1) to establish clear and consistent public participation opportunities in the governance process. 

Image credit: pixabay.com

This article was originally published in the Summer 2016 issue of the Manitoba Municipal Leader magazine (p. 22) found online here.

Local officials have the opportunity to do many good things during their tenure, such as improving the local road network, expanding new development areas, beautifying open spaces and parks, upgrading water and waste water systems, and engaging citizens, businesses and local organizations to understand issues and identify solutions.

The honour and responsibility of exercising leadership in public office requires decision-making and prioritization to allocate scarce resources among competing demands. Continue reading “Integrity in Leadership”