The recently announced departure of Brudenell Lyndoch and Raglan’s Clerk/Treasurer represents the greatest opportunity for positive change in BLR I have seen since moving here 25 years ago.
The full-time administrator of a Township is the single most important position because they are the eyes and ears of what is going on day in, day out. Professional administrators stand outside politics. They are subject matter experts for the public and members of Council. They know and follow our procedures and when they tell you something you can take it to the bank. They spend their time worrying about doing “the job” right instead of spending time worrying about “their job.” They have the professional bearing to be able to push back against pressure from Mayors or Councillors who attempt to influence or intimidate them to ignore laws and procedures. They strive to be models of fairness and equity on the matters they and their staff deal with.
My professional assessment of the current BLR Township Office shows that we are far from this ideal.
The recent controversy surrounding a $75,000 untendered gravel purchase tells me that, from a public finance perspective, things are not good. The lack of immediate and coherent answers from the staff, particularly the Clerk/Treasurer, on the matter is, well … alarming. An organizational analysis indicates an inefficient workflow, reluctance to delegate work and a generally suspicious office culture. The historical staff turnover of receptionists tells me that the atmosphere appears toxic. Lastly, few people will say that the Township Office exudes an attitude of “customer service” in dealing with either the public or with Councillors looking for information. Instead, information is closely guarded and requests are greeted with a feeling of “Well, why do you want to know about that?” All of this combined indicates an administrative system that is clearly broken and in need of overhaul.
So how do we fix it?
First, BLR Council needs to finally acknowledge that there is clearly a problem. The recent questioning of Council by a former member, Rick Clements, (Click HERE to read) shows there is not going to be an opportunity for “papering over” the fact that this organization does not understand, let alone follow, its provincially mandated financial controls. There is no “gaslight” they can deploy to take away from what looks on the surface, to anyone trained in accountancy or public administration, like procurement fraud in their gravel purchase. The OPP will determine criminality, if any, but we can certainly make the immediate judgement of incompetence quite quickly. Sadly, Mayor Keller and Councillor Kauffeldt appear in their public comments to believe that having any daylight between what we say we do on paper, what we affirm to our auditors we do, and what we actually do in practice is okay. In fact, Ms. Kauffeldt even went to so far as to say the practice was ingrained enough to be bordering on traditional. So we are apparently left with three council members (Budarick, Lidtkie, and Rutledge) to lead this Council back into the light.
Second, BLR Council needs to assess the situation. How bad is it? It is safe to say that none of the members of this Council have any knowledge of forensic accounting so they will need some help. We need to hire an interim administrator to come in and assess how bad our situation is and make the necessary fixes, re-establish the necessary guardrails, start the necessary investigations, and basically clean house. I would also recommend that we get another audit done immediately by a third party.
The terms of reference, established by our Council, for the interim clerk should be to set the place up so that the incoming permanent person can start with a clean slate. In an interim period, of say, six months, alterations to the structure and staff would be made. This six-month interim period also gives flexibility to the Council to take its time on the selection of a permanent administrator.
Third, we have to finally address the necessary change in our structure. There is a reason that practically every other municipality you can think of has a Chief Administration Officer (CAO) instead of simply a Clerk/Treasurer. It is this: the complexities and pitfalls of administering a municipality in 2020 have increased dramatically. The effect of provincial downloading to municipalities, changes in the Municipal Act, increased interest in transparency and the need to interact with more complex technology has increased the public’s expectations of their municipal structure. To match these challenges, we need people with an increased set of skills. CAOs have those skills.
We need the fortitude to finally acknowledge that we are not living in 1971 anymore. We should note the former BLR Clerk/Treasurer is in fact going to an organization (North Algona Wilberforce) that has a CAO! Now I can already hear the well-worn moan of “Well, that sounds like a lot of money to get one of those!” I will counter by simply saying this:
Low-quality staff provide low-quality advice leading to low-quality decisions.
These low-quality decisions end up costing all of us more in the end. Think of the money spent on legal fees by BLR after the series of low-quality decisions this Council has made. A high-quality CAO would have stickhandled us out of trouble with french fries or gravel purchases or harassment complaints or marijuana policy or Ministry of Labour enquiries or the Ombudsman or the Integrity Commissioner … you get the point.
So now that we know the way we need to go, I have to disappoint you. I can’t envision that we are going to do the right thing in the case or get anywhere near an empowered Interim Administrator or professional CAO with this Council.
The idea that the file cabinets would get opened and reviewed by an interim clerk with freedom and authority to actually fix problems and expose irregularities is hard for me to see happening, especially if members of Council would then be exposed to public scrutiny or investigation because of it.
The idea that a professional independent administrator whose loyalty is to doing their job, instead of personal loyalty to particular elected officials, is also sadly beyond anyone’s reasonable expectations for the majority of the current BLR Council.
About the author: Mike McCloskey is a veteran and retired Canadian Forces Officer with over 20 years of experience in public finance, personnel management, organizational analysis, and administration. He holds an Honours Degree in Political Science (Laurentian University) with post-graduate studies in organizational management.