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Operations review reveals no surprises

By Mike Cloutier
The money spent on the operations review by David Berger and Liuba Mamonova of Western Management Consultants was worth every cent, if only it turns the noise level down.

An extra bonus would be if it helps to ratchet up the intelligence quotient “around this horseshoe” — what councillors have been calling the council chamber lately.

Aside from telling councillors to act professionally, there’s not much in it at all, except it confirms that the Town is managed responsibly and well.

A few savings, so what? The difference is well within the margin of error in revenue and expenditure forecasts of the Town which total around $25 million.

In that context, town council dropped a dime to save a nickel.

Council could reach across departments to squeeze maybe one whole full-time equivalent “resource” out of the entire complement of 130 people.

Perhaps using data from GPS devices that have been installed in Town vehicles could be used to monitor and deploy forces more efficiently — if it doesn’t appear that “Big Brother” is watching, according to Berger.

There’s other tweaking that could be done, he said, but in his estimation, “I don’t know if there’s major bucks.”

Avoiding the cost of the $133,000 per year Ministry of Labour audit will cost the town a healthy full-time salary for a safety officer.

The safety issue isn’t a revelation to the administration. The previous council was made aware of the situation and aggressive staff initiatives have been going on for quite a while.

Nor is it news that the CSU isn’t working out well. That’s the Customer Service Unit — some kind of complicated bureaucratic organism that replaced what is commonly known as “receptionist” and “cashier” to handle frontline customer relations.

Berger noted it is a pilot program and advised council to continue working on its implementation.

Unique to Fort Erie and which can’t be compared is the Community Gaming Development Corporation and Community Health and Wellness — both under the management of one person. Berger said the model “seems to work well” and suggested renaming it so the public understands better what this division does.

Not unique to Fort Erie is a chief administrative officer. It is overwhelmingly common everywhere and “there’s more than enough work” to justify the position.

Internal legal services is not quite as common but also seems justified in Fort Erie’s case, Berger said.

The planning department might be able to scrounge some cash by charging a fee for zoning compliance letters, perhaps as much as $200 each for the 200 or so letters requested per year.

There are other minor recommendations in the report, some that will cost money, such as new technology, software, better public communications, and implementation of already approved plans.

Savings minus cost, all told, it probably rounds out to about zero dollars and zero cents.

There’s three more things, however: governance, governance, governance.
“Governance, why the hype,” asked Berger. “Because without it no decisions get made; the vision of the Town does not get implemented; work does not get done properly. Staff worry about all sorts of crazy things, unproductive things. They’re not in a good state of mind. Morale and productivity suffer more than any other factor here — especially, when proven by the benchmarking, the Town is run lean and mean . . . overall, a pretty good job.”

Among his recommendations, council should re-write the code of conduct and perhaps get some outside help to do it.

Berger also said surprises must stop. Councillors must provide advance information when they want to raise an issue at a council meeting.

“This is huge,” Berger said. “Not to say you’re doing it for a tactic, but in most cases people forget that there is a process we have to go through of informing the staff as best as possible with as much time as possible” when councillors have information on an issue.

“It’s not just one way,” he said. Some documents and presentations are too difficult to digest before a decision of council is required, so reports should be distributed earlier in the weekly cycle of council meeting. Councillors now receive reports on either Friday or Thursday before the Monday meetings.

Staff reports should also contain more information, more alternatives and more detail, Berger said.

Reading that, it seems as if he threw councillors a bone to say it’s not all their fault. If a report can’t be digested in four days, it’s doubtful that early receipt of an even more detailed report will help.

But what the hey, it’ll be one less excuse councillors will have to lay blame on staff for their own failings.

Berger said parties should be less defensive and more open in their communication and maintain professional composure and protocol.

“Minimize emotional reaction to content and focus on proper protocols and processes in light of good governance,” he said.

The irony of the situation — and it shouldn’t be a surprise to any regular reader of this newspaper — the biggest problems Berger found with Town operations were not problems until the new council took office.

It didn’t take long to gauge whether councillors comprehended and were willing to acknowledge Berger’s advice.

Within minutes of his report, councillor Don Lubberts sprung forward with information about Bay Beach that just had to be discussed that evening.

Council voted 4-3, like always, to go into an unscheduled closed meeting, making no report of the topic or the content of the meeting.

That should not have been surprising either.

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