City manager now has the authority to make $250,000 spending decisions - he has to tell Council in September how many times he did that

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

July 14th, 2021



Council is on their summer break until September 6th.

The city will wake up each day – do the things a city does and hope that the wheels don’t fall off.

The City is still in a declared State of Emergency which puts the day to day running of the city in the hands of the Emergency Control Group (ECG).

What if they have to do something quickly – really quickly to deliver the services council has approved?

Council found a solution for that – they gave the city manager delegated authority to spend $250,000 without referring to council before getting the cheque signed.

Pretty decent amount in terms of pocket change for city manager Tim Commisso to carry around. That kind of cash could certainly burn a hole in one’s pocket.

Commiso July 5 a

City manager Tim Commisso

To be serious this is just prudent management that allows the City Manager and his delegate (when the City Manager is absent) to make the decisions normally deemed to be decisions of Council. Such decisions would be limited in dollar value to $250,000 at a maximum per individual decision. In making these decisions, the City Manager and his delegate will have the support of Burlington Leadership Team and Emergency Control Group.

This authority begins on July 14 and stays in place until September 6.
The City Manager and the Mayor will stay in touch and if a situation crops up that is more than critical the Mayor can call a Special Meeting of Council and do the necessaries.
The City Manager is required to report any and all decisions made under this delegated authority to Council in the September Corporate Services, Strategy, Risk and Accountability committee meeting.

In addition, the City’s Corporate Continuity of Governance & Operations Plan describes the importance of the succession of leadership, particularly when involved in an emergency situation, to ensure the City of Burlington can carry out mandated responsibilities. In the case of the ECG, this succession is clear between the City Manager and his alternate, namely the Executive Director, Environment, Infrastructure & Community Service.

FLOOD man walking in water Harvester Road sign

It was a relatively light downpour – it just lasted a long, long time.

Many will remember the crisis that occurred when during a Sunday in August 2014 rain began to fall and it kept falling. When it was all over the city had to deal with the 191 mm of rain that flooded basements, underpasses and large open areas.

The preparations in place at the time taught city council that things had to change.

In May 2020, the City’s service re-design strategy outlined a responsive and highly measured approach to resuming delivery of City services and operations. This strategy included a framework for governance and decision making, clearly outlining those decisions to be made by Council and those that could be made directly by the Burlington Leadership Team/ECG/Service Leads.

The decisions of Council are in accordance with the following approved framework:

Guidelines for ECG spending

There are five question the City Manager and his leadership have to ask when they are making a decision about the delivery of services.

City staff looked at a number of options before arriving at a recommendation:

1. Hold decisions until the resumption of committee and Council meetings in September – NOT RECOMMENDED

This option would hinder the City’s ability to respond to changes in the Provincial re-opening regulations and orders in a timely manner resulting in further financial impacts, potential loss of service and significant reputational damage.

2. Seek approval of Council to delegate decisions up to $250,000 per individual decision to the City Manager (or his delegate in his absence) –RECOMMENDED
This option is consistent with the application of all formal delegated authority decision making by the City whereby authority transcends from Council to an identifiable staff member. In discussion with the City Clerk, delegating most COVID re-opening activities to the City Manager through the Council break would be most appropriate. The City’s current policy framework, with the Delegated Authority By-law and Procurement By-law have Council established approval limits that will be respected throughout this time. In September, a report to CSSRA as an addendum would report the COVID-related activities during the break. When the dollar threshold is expected to exceed $250,000, the City Manager and City Clerk will confer with the Mayor on the need for a special council meeting.

3. Seek approval of Council to delegate decisions to the Mayor – NOT RECOMMENDED
This option is not consistent with the application of all formal delegated authority decision making by the City. Delegation of authority, as is the case with all areas under the existing Council approved Delegated Authority by-law, sees the authority transcend from Council to an identifiable staff member.

4. If and as required, Mayor to call a special meeting of City Council to consider and approve COVID related service redesign decisions – NOT RECOMMENDED
This option is contrary to Council’s prior approval of the annual Council Meeting Calendar which specifically sought to re-establish an extended break during July and August. In so doing, both Council and staff are
afforded the opportunity to “lead by example” and support measures that address ongoing fatigue and stress caused by many months of COVID emergency response. However, there is a provision in the recommendation for the City Manager and City Clerk to confer with the Mayor on a call of a special council meeting should the $250,000 per individual decision threshold be exceeded.

Joan Ford, the city's Director of Finance knows where every dollar comes from and where every dollar gets spent.

Joan Ford, the city’s Chief Financial Officer is on top of every financial decision made – her counsel is sought and respected by the City Manager.

The Chief Financial Officer continues to have corporate oversight of all COVID-19 service re-design decision impacts and reporting to Council. The City Finance team, working closely with other staff, have applied extraordinary due diligence in securing COVID related funding (approximately $20 million in total). As a result, the City is very well positioned financially to address any impacts arising from additional service redesign decisions in July and August.

As long as it doesn’t rain in August and assuming that the vast majority of the public act responsibly and get their vaccinations – we could be in for a decent summer.

The announcement yesterday by the Chief Medical Officer for the province that he expected a wave of infections in September is certainly a bummer.

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