City hall rife with division, auditor finds

Cuff’s report was less than glowing, with the main theme being that “internal issues (at city hall) have festered and grown”

Infighting, lack of trust, and a lack of communication between the mayor and council and the mayor and city staff has created a divide at city hall, reveals a governance audit conducted on the city September 4-5.

George Cuff, a mayor of Spruce Grove, Alta. for 12 years, conducted the audit, which incorporates feedback from surveys and interviews with all members of council and senior city staff.

Cuff’s report was less than glowing, with the main theme being that “internal issues (at city hall) have festered and grown”.

The most glaring problems, according to Cuff’s report, are surrounding leadership.

“Council has made decisions but sees itself as far apart on the key matters,” writes Cuff in his report. “No team (has) developed – definite division between mayor and council and mayor and staff. Some may be seeing this as a stage on the way to the next election (and) may begin coasting to the end of this term.”

Cuff also noted two camps have formed among councillors – with the mayor and Coun. Ron Kerr typically on the opposing side of the rest of council – and that council is “failing to present a united front for the citizens and staff of Campbell River.”

Cuff said the mayor plays a huge role in how the community perceives the city, and he often speaks counter to the will of council.

“The mayor’s agenda may be worthwhile but his way of putting it forward has polarized council and the city,” said Cuff, who noted Mayor Walter Jakeway “has made public pronouncements which do not reflect council’s views.”

Jakeway said Tuesday morning that he accepts Cuff’s conclusions.

“I would agree with that, it’s certainly his view,” Jakeway said. “It’s certainly an outside view, but I’d say that’s true.”

Jakeway said he enjoyed meeting with Cuff and his findings are valuable to council.

“More than anything, it gives us an idea of how local government in George Cuff’s world would run,” Jakeway said. “He’s got lots of local government experience and I’m obviously new at being a politician.”

Cuff, in his report, does acknowledge Jakeway “may have been elected without a solid understanding of the rules and limits on his office” but noted he needs to enforce protocol and communicate the policies and decisions of council. Cuff also wrote that Jakeway “seems to view the city as an entity that he is not a part of (and) routinely separates himself from the body of council.”

Cuff also addressed Jakeway’s call for a tax revolt last spring to protest council’s 13.6 per cent residential tax increase, noting that Jakeway’s actions may have been to “prove to the public that a different slate of councillors is needed so as to approve his objectives.”

But despite all the problems, there were some bright spots highlighted in the audit.

“In spite of the issues facing council, the majority has managed to continue to show support for or assist in moving forward substantial projects that are important for the community, including the upcoming $1.3 billion BC Hydro dam construction, the new $300 million Campbell River hospital, and the creation of new jobs on the former Catalyst pulp mill site,” Cuff said. “A few important initiatives and projects have advanced due in part to council support. One area of agreement and movement has been downtown revitalization which was identified as a priority. Several major projects are coming to fruition: dam construction, new hospital, seniors’ residence, (and) Seymour Pacific head office.”

However, several of those projects can also be credited to the work of city staff, whose interview clips were incorporated into the audit. The results reveal a glimpse into working conditions at city hall.

“City hall has been referred to as ‘toxic’ and that senior staff ‘don’t get it.’ Staff have been accused of trying to preserve the bureaucracy at all costs, even manipulating this year’s budget process and that senior staff cling to their policy documents,” Cuff said. “Most of the senior management is staying out of the way and laying low. It is very difficult to accomplish tasks or move projects forward given the dysfunctionality.

“There is a limited appetite to continue to help council when there are constant public beatings.”

Cuff said senior management have tried to avoid mistakes and creating fuel for public criticism by shifting its focus onto operational issues rather than strategic issues (community projects). He also said council and city staff appear fragmented.

“There is no appearance of collegiality between the mayor, some members of council, and the city manager, and by extension, limited respect of the professional staff,” Cuff said.

City Manager Andy Laidlaw said the audit could help bridge the gap.

“I think council recognizes some of the divisions within council and George Cuff, as an expert, was brought in to work with council,” Laidlaw said. “He indicated some recommendations…in respect to moving forward as a team.”

Those recommendations include working to improve council’s leadership by working together and treating staff with respect; clarifying the role of councillors and the mayor; conducting an operations/governance review; and that council begin the budget and financial planning process immediately.

Cuff was expected to present his findings in the audit at Tuesday’s council meeting, after the Mirror went to press.