Elected councillors are responding to the release of a governance audit of governance and administration operations at Cranbrook city hall.
The audit, conducted by George Cuff, identified some issues in governance in terms of clarifying roles of elected officials, while also examining the city’s administration apparatus.
It also made a number of recommendations aimed at providing good governance and effective policy development as well as a reorganization of administration and a greater focus on human resources.
Mayor Pratt responded to the report, noting that council had asked for Cuff’s expertise to help navigate the modernization of bylaws and city policies.
The report was critical of information-sharing and the lack of communication between council members as well as communication with administration. It also identified a loss of trust on council and a disconnect between council and administration projects.
The report also identified challenges with human resources and made a number of recommendations in that area.
The Townsman reached out to each city councillor for their response to the Cuff report and recommendations.
Councillor John Hudak
Councillor Hudak said he wished the full report could have been released, but understands why parts had to be redacted.
He, like many other councillors, said the report was needed for a reset at city hall.
“I felt it identified where there were some shortcomings and even though it was something commissioned by council, it was not something that anybody escaped any criticism from, and I felt that it was necessary in order to have a reset, because things were broken and they need to be fixed.”
Since the report was delivered to council in October, Hudak said council has been working on implementing the recommendations identified in the report.
“I think one of the big things for me, is the sharing of all information in order that council has all of the information at their disposal in order to make decisions going forward and that there isn’t any holdback information, for lack of a better word.”
Councillor Norma Blissett
Councillor Blissett said that council knew there were some problems at city hall that needed to be addressed, which culminated in bringing George Cuff in to review the situation.
She said she was surprised at the the extent of the issues experienced by staff that Cuff identified in his report.
“I was surprised though when the report came back how bad the situation really was and how much needed to be changed,” said Blissett. “I felt quite badly about that, that that was the situation for our employees, but I do believe that we are looking at addressing their concerns and the concerns raised by council members as well and that we will make things better as a result.”
Blissett said there were different points of view on what the problems were and that the Cuff report has solidified the issues so that there would be no argument.
“It certainly has empowered the council to take action to make things better,” she said. “I think it has also empowered senior managers to take action to make things better. It is really an outline of what we have to do, maybe not step by step, but overall, what needs to be done and I think what we also should do is, say after a year’s time, review the situation again and see what progress we’ve made and what we still need to work on.”
Councillor Mike Peabody
Councillor Peabody said it was hard to read the report and not be surprised by some of the content.
“A lot of it is really raw; it’s hard stuff to swallow,” said Peabody, “but at the same time, it’s stuff that needed to get out. If you want to get knowledge of any issue that’s going on inside your organization, George Cuff is the guy that’s going to come in and point out any flaw you may have.”
Peabody said that council and staff are using the report as a guide for decision-making since it was presented last fall.
“I think part of this report was to clear the air and I feel the general feeling among staff and council is positive,” Peabody said. “Obviously there is negative things pointed out in the report but talking to staff and talking to council since the report came out, everyone seems to be in much better spirits.”
Councillor Wes Graham
Councillor Wes Graham had a previous run-in with George Cuff during his first elected stint in municipal government with the Town of Creston nearly 15 years ago.
Graham said Cuff helped the town sort out some issues and knew his expertise would be beneficial for Cranbrook.
“I think the things that he found was stuff that was looking at us in the face anyway,” said Graham, “and it was just a way to get a third party in there to provide a pathway forward to building a more cohesive work environment both on the governance and on the administration sides so that we could get some trust back with staff and trust with council and mayor.”
While Graham noted the report seemed a little ‘one-sided’, he also appreciated the way a third party authority such as Cuff came in and laid out the issues.
“The biggest thing that I want people to know is that we asked for this,” said Graham. “We felt that we needed to have this happen. The situation…most municipalities wait until it’s a lot worse, and so for us, we saw that there were some fractures happening and George is the guy to come in and help plug the holes.”
Graham said that he’s looking forward to working on improving communication between council and staff before considering small or major decisions leading up to, and during, council meetings.
“Communication was lacking, I don’t think anyone would say that isn’t true, so this is a way that allows us to get all of the information and make better informed decisions,” Graham said.
Councillor Wayne Price
Councillor Wayne Price said some of the concerns identified in the report formed part of his election platform and served as the impetus to run for council.
He said there seemed to be a consensus from staff, based on the report, on what issues staff have been facing at city hall and that their concerns ‘were not seriously considered for a period of time’.
“I think it validates concerns that most exempt staff and some members of council have had for a number of years,” said Price. “Some of the things that have been a concern, and have been identified in the report — the lack of transparency, the lack of process, and the lack of communication — I think people have been concerned about that for a number of years now.”
Price said council will be working on implementing the recommendations in the coming days, weeks and months.
“It’s about next steps,” Price said. “The lack of process that’s impacted decision making, information flow and project implementation, so now, going forward with the reset, council has to take the responsibility of a formal review of all the recommendations and develop an action plan to implement changes as required.
“Going forward, we have excellent staff, we have a very caring and committed mayor and council. If we put an action plan in place, I think we can turn this around to meet the public’s expectation.”
Councillor Ron Popoff
Councillor Ron Popoff said he welcomed the report and the fact that Cuff didn’t sugar-coat the issues at city hall.
“For council and senior staff, we were in a dark place a while back, which is why I supported the need for this governance audit and Mr. Cuff, he got to the heart of our challenges and also provided some extensive recommendations on the role of council and what direction council needs to establish going forward.
“Of course, those recommendations will contribute greatly to council’s strategic priorities both now and into the future to get us back on track for providing good and functional municipal government.”
The report is an accurate reflection of the situation at city hall, Popoff said.
“When Cuff presented his report, I frankly felt relieved that it’s now public, or as much public as we could make it, and also, personally, I felt really disappointed that I and council let our staff down,” Popoff said. “I feel personally responsible, in part, for not being able to do anything and in turn, letting the staff down.”
Popoff said it’s now up to council to set the tone and lead from the top.
“Those were Cuff’s words; council needs to lead from the top and set the tone, understand the tone in this community, then set that out with senior staff, so that’s what we’re working on,” he said.
That means revisiting and revising policy that’s missing from both the governance and administration sides of city operations, he said.