'What we have here is a failure to communicate': Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke - seems to apply to Burlington as well

News 100 redBy Pepper Parr

February 6th, 2020



The only tool that matters for anyone serving the public is the ability to communicate – for those who are elected to serve the public the ability to communicate and do it well is critical.

News anal BLUEMuch of our communication is done electronically. Email has taken the place of writing a letter.

How this electronic messaging is managed has become a serious issue for both the people sending the message and those getting the message.

City staff and members of council are being overwhelmed with email.

Lisa Kearns

Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns on the day she was sworn in.

This past year, an audit was conducted on the progress of a new system designed to quickly and efficiently address service requests to the city, including the Councillors’ Offices. While this system is intended to work for us, there have been some limitations that are now identified.

In a report to her constituents Ward 2 Councillor Lisa Kearns said the “report tells us that the successful outcome of the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) implementation depends on 100% adoption, usage, and proficiency in the new system.

“Each of these human factors have a direct correlation to the expected benefits from this project. At its current implementation point, the first phase has not delivered the intended benefits and has resulted in a pause to address the model and other initiatives to achieve the Service Brilliance Strategy.”

Kearns adds: “The Councillor offices were the first department to go live with this new technology – if you have emailed Ward2@Burlington.ca, then your request was entered into the CRM system, a case was created, and sent directly to the appropriate department to resolve. It is important to have issues resolved and to have a direct line of communication with your Councillor.

Kearns Lisa side view Mar 2019

Lisa Kearns speaking to her constituents. She is great with the one line zingers.

“I am not always aware of requests through CRM, nor do I have complete access to the system to see what issues are happening. I received many follow ups asking when or if an issue was resolved and some issues took multiple requests to find out the status. We know that when you take the time to contact your city representative, you deserve the respect to have an answer – we can do better on this and are working on improvements.”

If anything Kearns is proactive. She has said that the following are essentials steps that have to be taken.

• Improved email management across accounts with response acknowledgement.

• I will be re-booting my website www.LisaKearnsWard2.ca to deliver real time information and insight on what’s happening.

• A new social media strategy has been developed to get ahead of broader community issues.

• Newsletters will continue well in advance of Committee Meetings so you can have your say on what’s important.

• Community Update Meetings will continue in 2020 so you can hear and learn about the latest with an open Q&A to follow.

• A new video based approach to give you quick & easy updates on issue or site specific interests.

Kearns wants any ideas you might have.

With a new city Clerk hired and showing up for work in the 18th, current city Clerk Angela Morgan moves in to the Executive Lead-Customer Service  for the CRM system now in place.

Many, including the Gazette, wondered if Morgan was the right choice to lead the city into a better way of communicating. Change takes place when the leadership brings an approach and a skill set that aligns with the people who are supposed to benefit from the change.


City Clerk Angela Morgan

Morgan has not always been a champion of a citizen’s need for information. Her interpretation of the rules and the way she chose to implement them has often been suspect.

Several past incidents to make the point.

In 2014, when Rick Goldring was Mayor and running for re-election, he decided to take part in a world-wide environmental issue that had leading public officials from cities around the world meeting with the public.

Save the Planet - Goldring + organizer

City Clerk forced Mayor Goldring to hold his event on a city sidewalk – wasn’t allowed to use the Gazebo at Spencer Smith Park

Goldring had planned to use the old Gazebo in Spencer Smith Park as the platform from which he could speak.

Nope, said city Clerk Morgan; that is city property and you can’t use it with an election going on.

Goldring was representing the city on a world level issue – doing his job rather well on the issue. He ended up talking to people on a street corner outside a coffee shop.

Goldring should have told the Clerk she was offside and held his event.

When Marianne Meed Ward was running for re-election in 2014 she rented space at the Art Gallery for an election event. That was permitted – but she was told her team could not wear their election T shirts anywhere else in the Art Gallery other than the space they had rented. Getting to the washrooms became a problem

MMW fridge magnet

The Meed Ward fridge magnet

In the 2018 election there was a lot of fussing about how personal vehicles could be used for election purposes. Meed Ward came up with the idea of providing people with small fridge magnets they could place on their cars.

Nope said the city Clerk Morgan; that would be classified as vehicle advertising – the magnets were 5 x 5 inches in size.

City Clerk Angela Morgan fails to ensure media alerted to Special Council meeting. Her communications people dropped the ball as well.

City Clerk Angela Morgan signing the 2010 election returns.

Dealing with the public as a civil servant requires a finely-tuned skill set. The people at city hall are not police officers; they are there to help people; to explain what can be done and to help people get things done.

Overseeing and implementing a CRM (Customer Relations Management) system) requires a mindset quite different than we have seen from Morgan in the ten years we have followed her career at city hall.

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2 comments to ‘What we have here is a failure to communicate’: Paul Newman in Cool Hand Luke – seems to apply to Burlington as well

  • Hans Jacobs

    Having had several disappointing experiences in dealings with City staff, I agree with Stephen White. There is much room for improvement.

  • Stephen White

    The title of the article implies that the major problem at City Hall is a failure to communicate. I would submit that the problem is a lot more fundamental than that.

    What we have is a number of long-standing public servants who have been in their positions far too long, and have not adapted to changing times or circumstances. I cannot get over the difference in approach between public servants at City Hall vs. the Region of Halton. Halton offiicals are invariably professional, courteous, informed, follow up extremely well, are responsive, and are genuinely helpful. By contrast, Burlington officials view the public with a combination of indifference bordering on contempt. They aren’t responsive, they aren’t particularly helpful, and they have serious communication and engagement issues.

    I raised an issue with my Councillor, Paul Sharman, over a month ago regarding overland flooding. Paul responded very quickly and referred it on to a City of Burlington official. A month later and I’m still awaiting a definitive reply. So much for timeliness and customer service. By contrast, I’ve called the Region twice this month, left messages both times, and had responses in less than an hour.

    We don’t need a new CRM. What we need is people who understand customer service, and who realize that without all these grubby, annoying taxpayers like me they wouldn’t be in a job!