Last week I attended the Finance & Administration Committee meeting. After I sat down, I was presented with the stark evidence that the Township was once again headless, this being the empty chair usually occupied by the CAO. As the front page story in last week’s Eganville Leader reminded us, this “continues a pattern of a series of dismissals in the Township.”
Given my observations of Mr. Robertson’s demeanour over the course of his short engagement, his departure did not come as a surprise. The pained and resigned expressions on his face spoke volumes as he sat through meeting after meeting, forced to listen to other much less qualified people while they appropriated his responsibilities. For this reason, an arguable case can be made that the Township has in fact been “headless” since the current Council was elected.
Last November, dispirited after sitting through yet another unnecessarily protracted and inefficient Council meeting, I sent him an email about the lack of any activity to get the Railway Station ready for next summer’s tourist season. I started off by saying:
This afternoon our Council spent 45 minutes discussing the proposed job description for a “part time facilities coordinator” for a recreation centre. This followed, we had been told, five previous occasions when the subject had been considered by Council either at committee or at full council. In fact I attended the Nov 8th meeting and recorded that Council engaged in “20 minutes of bickering” about the same subject. Seriously, you could not make this stuff up!”
This was by no stretch of the imagination an isolated incident. This Council from the start seemed determined to micromanage as much of the operational side of things that they could get their hands on. It is true to say some councillors are guiltier than others. In recent weeks we have had to sit through interminable discussions about such matters as the wording of a part-time job description, the hiring of a junior accounting clerk, where to relocate rocks in Combermere and minor complaints about facilities’ use.
By so acting, Council is flouting the role that it was elected to perform and that the Municipal Act requires it to perform. S.224 enacts the “Role of Council.” In short, the Act identifies its responsibilities as being essentially limited to matters of policy and strategy.
A 2017 publication entitled The Evolving Role of City Managers and Chief Administrative Officers (published by The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance) describes the respective roles of Council and the CAO as follows:
“The principle underlying the CAO model is a separation of policy-making (by council) from the development and implementation of the policy (by the CAO and staff).”
It appears that this Council either does not understand or chooses to ignore this separation of roles. However well-meaning their intentions may be, it is behaviour that is counter-productive and wasteful. It brings to mind the old expression about “keeping a dog and barking too.”
Mr. Robertson, when he was hired after a nine-month search, was trumpeted as being a coup for the Township. This is because he brought 25 years of experience including strategy development and implementations, business and financial planning, contract management and applying legislation in a municipal environment. How galling it must have been, therefore, for him to try to do his job while listening to members of Council floundering around in areas that fall exclusively within the responsibilities of a Chief Administrative Officer and his staff.
Yet according to the statement made by the Mayor at yesterday’s meeting, these same Councillors sat in judgment on him and found him wanting. It may well have been the case that Mr. Robertson, despite his experience, did not perform satisfactorily. However, it begs the question, was he given a sporting chance?