Salt with Pepper. – Brain refresh exercise taking place at Paletta. Positive results are expected.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON May 5, 2011 – There is a better way to do things and both Burlington Council members and senior staff are learning that it isn’t very productive to jam eight hours of meetings into a single day and forget about arranging for breaks.

I’m not sure who – either the Mayor or the City Manager – is responsible for setting out agendas and determining what happens when in a meeting but in the very recent past Burlington has held meetings that run for four straight hours. There was to be one day in May where the City Manager was prepared to have 12 hours of meetings. Ward 3 Councillor John Taylor said he wasn’t going to do that – and Taylor was right – as he often is.

Council and senior staff are meeting with a pair of consultants out at the Paletta Mansion,learning how to approach the creation of a Strategic Plan. A Strategic Plan is the document that sets out what the city wants to do longer term. Sort of the vision for the city for the next 20 to 25 years which then gets broken down into what this council can get done in the three and a half years it has left.

This is all very sound management – something this city administration, and council to some degree, have not been very good at. The tendency is to focus on what is in front of them now. First it was the budget and senior staff set out a schedule of events that was brutal, especially for a council that had three new members and a Mayor who was new to the job.

Before really knowing what the job was your Council was faced with issue after issue as they struggled to get on top of things. As they were getting ready to actually get into the budget they learned there as this very, very significant surplus – like $9.3 million, that had been budgeted for but not spent. The Council members didn’t know each other all that well and there was a stunned pause the day that Ward 5 Councillor Paul Sharman said he wanted to see a 0% tax increase when the Mayor had already said he was heading for an increase of about 2.5 – 3 % increase each year for the four year term.

The Sharman “bombshell” took a little time to digest but he was right. The city is awash with cash that it wasn’t using. Burlington was quite proud of a .9 – that’s less than 1 percent – tax increase which was made possible to a considerable degree by the surplus. Hamilton, a dysfunctional municipality if there ever was one, came in with a budget increase of point eight (.8) percent and they didn’t have a massive budget surplus to play with. Your Council is going to be keeping a much closer eye on the flow of cash each month and hopefully make sure the city’s Executive Budget Committee doesn’t pull another “gapping” stunt.

Let me loop back to the training sessions your Council and senior city staff are going through out at Paletta Mansion. There are going to be five sessions – each half a day long. Each is led by a very skilled facilitator who set up a horseshoe type seating arrangement and had council and stiff mixed in together. They were there to work as a team and not have staff on one side and council on the other.

Every 60 to 75 minutes there was a break. Coffee, juice and stuff to nibble on had been set out. Everyone was asked to put their cell phones on vibrate which brought out a very telling remark from John Taylor but we don’t need to go there – do we?

Georgina Black, the lead facilitator from KPMG , a national consulting firm, would pause often and double check with a council member or a staff member to ensure there was agreement on the direction they were going. What was impressive was the pace put in place. Unlike the Budget Orientation meetings which had one staff member after another standing at the podium the Council Chamber droning away at how well they were doing.

These facilitated sessions had the objective of creating something, working towards a common goal, with everyone buying into the concept as they moved forward. If there appeared to be some hesitation, Ms Black would pause and double back and tease out what someone was trying to say.

Every hour or so the “team” and they were treated as a team in these sessions, would break out into small wok groups with six to eight people at a table – half staff half council members – and work through an idea and then report back to the whole group. Then a break to refresh and talk with each other one on one.

It was an impressive session – there are four more to take place. Some will ask – how much is it costing ?– and indeed it does cost – but the city is getting exceptional value for the maybe $25,000 being spent for the five sessions. So before you go standing up on your hind legs and howling about waste at city hall – accept the fact that you now have a council and senior staff learning how to use some of the more advanced management tools. It’s quite a sight to see these men and woman sitting together and learning. John Taylor is having the time of his life. Councillor Craven however is still saying the jury is out. Good thing Craven is not involved with the Freeman Station crowd – he’d miss the train.

Now – if some of this professionalism that Council and Staff are rubbing up against out there on Lakeshore Road can get transported into the Council chamber, citizen – you are going to have a very effective group of people doing a first class job on your behalf. Stand By – I’ll keep you posted on this.




Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Comments are closed.