By Cole Parkinson
After months of work, the Municipal District of Taber has received the final LadderUp Consulting report.
At the policy committee’s regular meeting held on Jan. 7, councillors were able to fully review the lengthy document and discuss how they wished to proceed.
The report is broken into six different areas with recommendations — clearly defined roles and responsibilities, strategic planning, internal M.D. culture, flow of information, transparency and community engagement and training.
With Arlos Crofts stepping in as the new CAO at the beginning of 2020, council realized it wouldn’t be fair to rush any decisions regarding the report.
“I think it is something we want to give you some time to wrap your head around and come up with some recommendations,” stated Coun. Brian Brewin.
With the first recommendation to have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, the M.D. has developed its Council Roles Policy, which was discussed at the Jan. 6 policy meeting and was tabled to allow a review of this report.
“The M.D. did not have established role descriptions. Neither the bylaws nor the policies accurately set out respective accountabilities, responsibilities and authorities for key roles. In most cases, authority was not commensurate with responsibility and accountability, resulting in an inability to effectively carry out the requirements of each role. As a result, there was confusion about communications, required reporting and relationship management. Duplication of effort between council and administration was not uncommon,” reads the report.
While a few recommendations had been completed already, LadderUp recommended for there to be a revision in their Purchasing Policy which would give better guidance on delegation authorities for signing contracts, financial matters and to determine materiality levels.
They also recommend creation of a bylaw/policy framework and to review council committee structure.
The second portion of the plan was around strategic planning.
“One of the things LadderUp did was upgrade (our strategic plan) to what it is today. Certainly, I think it is a stronger strategic plan than we had previously,” said Reeve Merrill Harris.
The report states ‘LadderUp facilitated three in-depth workshops with both Council and Administration to review and rewrite M.D. values and to develop a long-term, SMART strategic plan.’
It was further explained by council that administration and councillors had spent a few days together in the same room hashing out the details of what the strategic plan would look like.
“Lots of the strategic planning discussion you’ve had with senior management group and council together has been really service level focused and service level based. I’m trying to understand what our service levels are or how service levels can attribute to achieving our priorities,” added Crofts. “The report refers to getting to a point of paring down to what is important and saying no to certain things, which is difficult.”
As far as recommendations still being worked on in this section, it includes council undertaking quarterly reviews of implementation and performance of operational priorities against strategic priorities, having an annual or bi-annual strategic planning/review with administration, implementing organizational risk reporting, review/update of the Procedural Bylaw, undertake a third party strategic operational review, creating a robust performance planning and review culture and reviewing and revising bylaws and policies.
The third was internal M.D. culture.
“Through individual conversations, survey result analysis and workshops, it appeared that there were trust issues between council and administration, between employees and between councillors,” reads the report. “There were allegations of poor behaviour and wrongdoing resulting in hurt feelings and mistrust.”
Recommendations still being worked on in this regard include revising the existing complaint process for employees, revising/clarifying the employee and council codes of conduct, develop and conduct an annual employee satisfaction and culture survey and to institute a comprehensive privacy program.
Flow of information was the fourth item brought forward in LadderUp’s report.
“LadderUp initially observed that there are no internal processes to guide information flow between council and administration, each department, and various projects and programs. We were told of personnel matters circumventing the CAO directly to council, employees and supervisors who were at odds with one another due to a difference of opinion on what information should be conveyed, by whom and when and that the majority of M.D. information about processes is contained within each individual’s head and not written down. All of these situations combined pose a significant risk to business continuity of the M.D., add redundant processes, prevent efficient collation of information and pose significant risks in confidentiality and privacy breaches,” reads the report.
Next steps include completing charts for flow of information and priorities, creating an information flow map and to create clear processes in support of the information flow chart.
The penultimate recommendation was around transparency and community engagement.
“The M.D. has made efforts to have more information available on its website and undertakes an annual general meeting where the community is invited to attend and receive information about M.D. matters. However, we understand that there are few attendees at the Annual General Meeting relative to the size of the community, the information shared on the website can be made more easily available, and the point of contact in the M.D. for the public can be centralized to avoid confusion,” states the report.
To continue strengthening this aspect within the M.D., LadderUp recommends to create a centralized community contact, conduct an annual community survey and to provide further training to council and administration in specific areas (operating versus governance and oversight, risk management, budgeting and roles and responsibilities etc.)
“As a municipality progresses from one stage of development to another, its needs change, as does its council and administration. Both council and administration have come a long way towards better governance and reporting practices in a very short time,” reads the conclusion of the report.
Some on council saw the report as very critical and focused on negative aspects.
“There are some things in here, I don’t want us to focus on the negative. I want us to move forward on a positive. Maybe it’s just my interpretation but some of this (report) seems negative,” said Coun. Tamara Miyanaga.
It was pointed out that some of the critical points of the document brought forward were needed to better the municipality.
“I don’t think we need to dwell on the negative but I think we need to look at some of the negative aspects. Those were some things identified that need work so I think there is value in the negative in the way that we are going to take something negative and turn it into a positive. Obviously, there were some negative things pointed out that need some work and that is something we need to work on moving forward. There was some things that we were doing great,” stated Deputy Reeve Jen Crowson.
A motion to have administration investigate a way to implement some of the recommendations and bring it back to the policy committee was carried unanimously.