It’s going to be a made in Burlington to work in Burlington group – are we ready to really engage each other?



By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  January 9, 2012  It wasn’t a very well written document, but over time it took on a life of its own and just may be the report that pushes Burlington along a path where citizen engagement becomes something real.

During the last year of his term of office then Mayor Cam Jackson created a Citizen Advisory Committee on Civic Engagement, to look at the way citizens interacted and communicated with city hall.  There were a lot of people who at the time felt city hall was too distant and didn’t involve the public enough in its thinking.  This applied more to the civil servants, than it did to the council members – they could be tossed out in an election.  The bureaucrats were there for life and other than complaining there wasn’t much anyone could do.

John Boich - co-chair of the Shape Burlington Committee died in 2011

The late John Boich was an unpaid advisor to Jackson and he certainly had the Mayor’s ear.  Jackson was just over a year away from his next municipal election and being the politician he was – he was becoming aware of some restlessness amongst the natives and felt that advice from a committee would serve his purpose rather well.  He appointed Boich and former Mayor Walter Mulkewich to co-chair the committee and gave them a very short time frame within which to get their work done.  One of the things Boich was superb at, was getting things done and the report came back in a very short period of time.

Former Mayor Walter Mulkewich co-chaired the Advisory Committee that produced the Shape Burlington report. His co-chair was the late John Boich

Mulkewich got a call “out of the blue” from Jackson asking if he would co-chair the committee.  He quickly said yes and the two advocates for citizen participation were off.  They had carte blanche from Jackson and they handpicked the committee they wanted and then engaged a public opinion research firm to help with pulling together some data and the report was released.  While Council at the time approved the report on a unanimous vote, several council members took exception to some comments Boich made to the media.  Boich, true to form, stood by his comments on just how toxic things were between the city and its citizens.

A Shape Burlington original Blair Lancaster went on to get elected as Council member for Ward 6. She is not always a strong Shape advocate.

Jackson had hoped for something a bit different than what he got, but he was able to live with the report.  Now that it was public it took on a life of its own.  Two members of the Shape Burlington Committee went on to become members of city council.  Paul Sharman and Blair Lancaster seldom fail to remind people they were part of that committee, but they tend to blow hot and cold on some of the recommendations that were in the document.

The Shape Burlington report, which by the way was not on line when we began this story, had somehow fallen off the radar – was that a telling  mistake or just sloppy management over at the web site side of the city?  Kim Phillips, General Manager Budget and Corporate Services, is the person who shepherds anything related to Shape Burlington through city hall. How the document got left off the web site is a question Phillips asked and got an answer to quick, quick. It is now back on the city web site.

The creation of a meaningful Strategic Plan was part of what the Shape Burlington recommended and on that one, the city delivered in spades.  Not only did they put in a considerable amount of time creating the document, but they also took steps to ensure that the document didn’t just gather dust on a shelf.

The city assigned the ongoing review of the document to Allan Magi, Executive Director of Corporate Strategic Initiatives, who will be leading Council through a quarterly review of just where the city is with its plans as set out in the Strategy document.

More than that, every action the city takes gets run through a number of filters. One of which is – how does this impact the Strategic Plan, another is – what does this mean financially.

Paul Sharman served on the Shape Burlington Committee along with Lancaster. He was a bit of a "bull in a china shop" with that organization and brought the trait along with him when he got elected to Council.

The next challenge for the city and the way it continues to respond to the Shape Burlington report is the creation and implementation of a Community Engagement Charter. Then Council has to get over the hurdle of actually putting a Citizen Engagement Charter in place.  No one really knows what an engagement charter is other than that it is a tool that gives citizens a voice at the table where decisions are made any time and every time – and not just when Council or staff think it would be nice to hear what the people paying the freight think.

That there was no expertize within the Shape Burlington committee, and not that much elsewhere in Canada, didn’t stop them from believing that a charter would solve a lot of the problems.  With Council having endorsed the report unanimously – truth be told not one of them had the courage to vote against the report – Ward 2 Councillor Peter Thoem did say the report was a nice collection of Motherhood statements.  He lost the 2010 election to Marianne Meed Ward. With two Shape Burlington Committee members now on Council, the report was expected to get serious consideration.

Kim Campbell did the early spade work on just what it took to get a Citizens Engagement Charter in place.  She found that cities that had a real working charter (and there weren’t very many of them) tended to have someone in place to grow the idea and the concept within the community.  What was an Engagement Charter going to do for the city?  There are all kinds of ideas and expectations running all over the place, but no one had anything anywhere near a concrete plan.

The people who put the Shape Burlington report together were so pleased with themselves and what they had achieved that, like a really good party – they didn’t want it to end.  Jackson’s Advisory Committee was disbanded the day the report was given to Council.  Many members of the Shape Burlington Committee decided to re-shape themselves and be known as Shaping Burlington – that subtle difference in name is important.  Shape had legitimacy and a clear mandate and the line of accountability was crystal clear.

Shaping is a self-appointed group that is accountable to no one and decides on its own who will be a member and who will not be a member.  They delegate to city council committee meetings, but other than comments on their web site there is no other accountability.  Elected Council members would just love to be able to operate that way.  While Shaping calls for transparency and accountability on the part of Council – they don’t apply those strictures to themselves.  Do they make valid comments?  Are the comments useful?  One would have to give them a mild yes at this point.  They have served as a reminder, perhaps as a “conscience for the people in place to make this happen. Neither Boich or Mulkewich chose to be part of the Shaping group, but Mulkewich is believed to advise the group and they have enlarged their “membership” somewhat.

General Manager, Budget and Corporate Affairs Kim Phillips took control of the city's decision to hire a Public Involvement Coordinator and has made this her signature file.

Shaping felt strongly that there should be someone hired to create an Engagement Charter for the city and then be on hand to make the thing work.  They wanted the job to be full time and permanent.  They got a commitment to hire an experienced person for a two year contract.  Once again Phillips picked up her pen and with other people within city hall, crafted a job description.  As Phillips explains it:

“I got Mike Greenlea, who was assistant to the general managers at the time, to research similar positions in other municipalities because this was a new role for us and Shape Burlington had some specific suggestions on what they felt worked in other places and could work in Burlington.

“We then drafted a job description while consulting with other staff  to avoid duplication of effort and reviewed corporate job descriptions for comparable attributes, expectations, job requirements and appropriate compensation.

Because this had the potential to be a contentious hire, I had previously met with each member of council about deliverables and measurables to get an idea of the type of work they expected and results they were looking for, which helped me frame up the type of person/skills needed”.

The document was then run by the people over at HR after which Phillips then reported to committee/council with a proposed work program and job description.  Normally this level of detail doesn’t go to committee/council, but the city was breaking new ground and Phillips wanted to cover all her bases.  That committee meeting got a little bumpy, but Phillips left the meeting with more than her shirt on her back – next step was to get the hire requisition moving and all the sign offs that were required.

“The recruitment phase begins with internal and external posting” explains Phillips.  This hire was going to get special treatment right from the get-go; every application went to Phillips. “Usually” she explains “ there is some slimming done at HR before an application goes anywhere, but in this case, “it was such a unique position with a range of backgrounds that could ‘fit’, I decided to review them all.”  This was going to be a project with Kim Phillips’ fingerprints all over it.

The city’s interview panel for full time employees (including contract employees) is usually the supervisor (in this case Phillips), the HR representative and another staff person. (A variety of selection criteria to end up with an appropriate panel.  In this case, round 1 interviews included Mike Greenlee and round 2 interviews added Scott Stewart).

The hiring decisions are considered the supervisor’s, with the input from participants on the interview panel, for all positions.  Christine Iamonaco was a Kim Phillips hire.

Part 2 This job was made for me.



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