It was in the movie Cool Hand Luke that we first heard the phrase: 'What we have here is a failure to communicate'.

opinionred 100x100By Pepper Parr

April 23rd, 2019



Two people who were heavily involved in the campaign to elect Marianne Meed Ward, the Mayor of Burlington, have come out with strong statements on the new Customer Relations Management system the city is in the process of adopting.
A third citizen has commented on just how unfriendly the city hall atrium is.

There is something amiss here.

Burlington flag from Lt Gov office

The crest would at least add some colour to a dull boring looking council chamber.

The woman who is now Mayor has been a citizen’s champion from the day she first stood at the podium in city hall to delegate. That “new – re-modeled” council chamber is even less friendly than the atrium. If there was ever a bland space made up of dull grays the council chamber would be it. Having a copy of the city crest made up and put up on the space beside the name Burlington, would do something for the chamber.

The podium that can be raised for people of different heights was a good idea – but when the seating area for the members of council was lowered it meant that people in the audience could not see all that well.

Council chamber - new look

This is what bland looks like.

The design of the new chamber is a botched job – reportedly carried out by the Clerk’s office with no public input.

Blair Smith, a person with considerable experience in the running of government services, having served as an Assistant Deputy Minister with the Ontario government said in a Gazette comment that:

“There is nothing inherently wrong in a Customer Relations Management System” wrote Smith,  “but it needs to be coupled with a customer service philosophy that permeates through the organization and gives staff energy and focus.

“CRM can make operations more efficient if used properly but it can never replace personal contact and commitment; it was never intended to be a replacement. The City of Burlington needs to ‘open up’. It needs clear and understandable program descriptions with accountable staff identified and contact information clearly displayed. Accountability and visibility go hand in hand. It needs performance dashboards with metrics that are measurable to report on commitments and progress against plan.

Blair Smith talking to planner Heaher MacDonald

Blair Smith in conversation with Director of Planning Heather MacDonald

“It needs transparent citizen engagement instruments so that the public actually contributes to decision-making and can see how operational and strategic directions evolved. And to ensure that the process is not merely cosmetic, it needs a comprehensive customer service program with an executive lead and performance metrics that are in every staff contract and commitment.

“There are established and successful models for true Customer Service Management in operation in other municipalities and levels of government. Seek them out, adapt and adopt them.”

Meed Ward as a delegation

Transparency was her trademark – which looks a little faded these days.

The Gazette thinks Smith is dead on. We all thought that what Smith had to say is what Meed Ward thinks; it is certainly what we have heard in all her public remarks, right back to the days when she would walk backwards as she spoke into a camera explaining what was wrong with the thinking about the pier and that piece of property between Lakeshore Road and Old Lakeshore Road.

Lynn Crosby

Lynn Crosby; one of the front line workers in the drive to keep Central High School open and a trooper in the Meed Ward campaign.

Lynn Crosby, who worked tirelessly on the Meed Ward campaign, running the office they had on Brant Street is “betting this is a system created by staff and was not something the new council or Mayor created. This would beg the question of why staff members might want to vet emails that come in and also begs the question of whether all emails that come in are actually forwarded to the appropriate person, and if so, are they forwarded in a timely manner – i.e., same day – or not.”

Crosby is also no fan of the “big Security desk that greets visitors to city hall” and adds that “it is not exactly welcoming”

“I think it’s early days with the new council and there’s lots of work to be done on making changes to how the city communicates with the citizens and what the tone is. It can be done.

“Looking at this system should be a priority because transparency and ease of communicating with the mayor, council and staff members should be easy to implement.”

Crosby also asks: “Where is the staff directory naming all individuals in key positions with clear contact information?”

When Kim Phillips was a General Manager with the city she was against such a directory. She didn’t want the public “pestering staff”.

Smith and Crosby are pushing in the right direction – we think they had hoped the Mayor would be leading in that direction.

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