I was reading the Province of Alberta Inspection Report on the City of Chestermere. Just outside of Calgary, Chestermere is now “under administration.”
This usually means while it might still have a city council, every decision made by council has to be approved by a provincial government appointed administrator.
Usually, citizens are finally fed up with wackadoodle councils and call in the Province. “Administration” and inspections are not taken lightly by the Province. So, one would expect it happens rarely.
Not so! With almost 350 towns, counties, cities, municipal districts and other local governments in Alberta, there have been times when a half dozen or more were under provincial control. Average the past 10 years is three per year.
The administrator usually is paid by the taxpayers of that community. The cost is often more than a $100,000 per year. There are common themes. One such is a lack of what is called “institutional memory.” This is when thoughts, ideas and reasons for certain actions are passed from council to council by experienced staff or councillors informing newcomers. Sometimes, newcomers don’t want to listen. Sometimes, oldtimers walk out the door.
Another thought, although seemingly trivial, is the idea that “Kids we can give money to. Adults can pay their own way.” There was a time when this was almost a written rule, a principle handed down the Almighty. These days, many councils pass out money to anybody with a story. Some have formal processes for grants. Other councils have personal slush funds. As was written often by inspectors, ‘wide open for abuse.’
Another such thought is getting professional advice. Some councillors, or mayors, are experts on everything. They hate the idea of hiring a lawyer, an engineer, or any consultant. Often they are able to convince a majority of their unthinking fellow councillors this is the right way.
Then there are school yard bullies and their backups. More than one council has been taken over by such, to the point there have been actual fist fights, or councillors locking themselves in rooms fearing for their safety.
One would think voters elect only the best and brightest to be their local government. Most times, that is indeed the case. But, as one municipal government consultant has said many times, “Sometimes, winning election brings out the hidden thought a person can do whatever he or she feels, now that they are in power.”
Doing good for the community? Right out the window!
Hiring the best people for a job? Gone with the wind!
Letting your friends and relatives benefit from your position? Absolutely!
Learn as much as you can to do your council job to the best of your ability? Heck, you already know everything. Educating yourself is a waste of time. And besides, you got enough friends on council to win all the votes you need.
And indeed, such things happen easily when fellow councillors sleepwalk through their job. Rarely, if ever, worrying that voters have put their trust in them.