Review does little to help improve community

Former councillor feared review would drop district staff morale

Editor, The Record:

These last two years have not been kind to the staff at the District of Mission. Despite their often-exceptional work, they couldn’t catch a break in 2011 as their every move became fodder for a pitched political battle that began 11 months before the election. A series of strategic publications were distributed around the community, implying that council and staff were running Mission irresponsibly. Powered by innuendo and misconstruction of the city’s finances, the rancor towards our civil servants ramped up until there was a cry for a core services review.

This review became a central point in the election, with some candidates defending the $100,000 expense as a way of getting to the bottom of the unnecessary expenditures and unduly high taxes purported for our city.

For me, despite the fact that I had chosen to retire, this was a difficult time for me because I knew our finances were in topnotch condition; that we had a stable of outstanding staff aboard; and that we were moving forward in some trail-blazing ways. I hated the thought that we would waste $100,000 on an unneeded expense and that we would lose ground on our planning, all in the name of political rhetoric.  Even more, I worried that our staff’s morale would plunge to an all-time low, and that we would lose some of the people we had worked so hard to find and retain.

It is a somewhat hollow redemption then to hear that the core services review confirms all that the outgoing council had contended. How did we rate in terms of our finances, policies, operations and human resources? All A’s and B’s across the board, just as promised.  And where did we need to improve?  Mr. Acton indicates that we must enhance staff morale, internal and external communication, and council governance policies and ethics.  I couldn’t agree more.

It is also heartening to see that the report calls for the re-establishment of a communications function for the city. The communications officer was unfairly labeled a “spin-doctor” during the campaign, and was promptly let go as promised, but she was actually a valuable conduit between the public and the city.

I am also grateful for Mr. Acton’s call for a council code of ethics. In order to be effective, such a code will need legal weight or it will be of little value. It must deal with key areas such as information leaks, conflict of interest, meeting conduct and basic honesty. We, on council, worked hard to achieve a high standard of conduct, but these areas must be universally valued and upheld. Any effort to do so will serve the community well.

In the end, I fear that this $100,000 expense will do little to help our community. The review is thorough and honest, but is short on revelations or new ideas. We will never see the human resources side of this report, but we can be sure that key people will be shuffled and/or lost, so this confirmation of our city’s fine work will come as cold comfort to the team of people who have made Mission a first-rate place to live, work and play.

Paul Horn