Mayor Walter Jakeway believes in common sense “bluntly expressed.”
He also believes he has to start getting things done in the second year of his term. So he convinced city council to hire the consulting services of a municipal peacekeeper to help patch up relations at city hall after a year of fear and resentment.
Most observers agree the atmosphere at city hall has gone from bad to worse in the past year. In an effort to introduce some harmony Jakeway sought divine intervention in the form of former Spruce Grove (Alberta) mayor George Cuff, an internationally-respected local government consulting peacemaker who parachuted into Campbell River earlier this month to meet all the combatants and “coach us on how to get along better.”
Jakeway says Cuff interviewed all elected officials and senior managers. His preliminary report states the obvious. “Council needs to let the mayor lead and the mayor needs to be more respectful of people on council and senior staff,” the mayor reports.
Cuff wants city hall to find ways to get along, Jakeway says. Will the mayor do his part? Be more empathetic?
“In year two you’ll see a lot more getting along. We’ve got to get some stuff done,” he says.
While he insists the “ogre” thing is just an act, he makes no apologies for “turning city hall upside down and shaking it” in his first year in the mayor’s chair. “If you are going to make change happen, you have to force it and sometimes it isn’t very nice.”
“And, I have my big weakness … I don’t respect incompetence,” he says.
It is no surprise then that during the year the hefty, six foot one inch bull in a china shop has been repeatedly stonewalled by city council and cold shouldered by senior staff. Why? Jakeway approached his mandate convinced he was fighting with “an entrenched bureaucracy.”
“They were dug in … really dug in.” He says his job was “to break them loose.” “They are very comfortable in their chairs. They don’t want anyone tinkering with them. They (management) are well paid and they have good benefits.” He says he had to apply some pressure. “I certainly got their attention.”
Jakeway set the mood around city hall by declaring “there are too many people here.” The reaction, he says, was predictable … “fear and anger.”
In the plus column, Jakeway says the city is buzzing with construction activity. As his business card proclaims, there are “oceans of opportunity” here. For his part, Jakeway says he’s learning “politics.” Public awareness of city hall issues “is huge.” City council is working more efficiently and more transparently. And, he is satisfied that voters know he’s listening to their concerns and is unafraid to speak up.
But – there’s always a but – some things never change. The mayor insists that everything he’s said in the past year remains true. “There’s still too many staff. There’s still too much cost. And, the (property) tax increase did not need to happen.”
If Jakeway has his way, the city will eventually be downsized by 35 staff. Can that be achieved through attrition, resignations and retirements? “No,” he says. “Attrition is weak management. That’s being a weenie.”
Jakeway’s second year in office should be a walk in the park. Right?