Policy at heart of council failure: report


St. Albert city council has undermined its own role through an unnecessary focus on detail and a failure to fulfill its fundamental responsibilities as the priority-setting body for the city, says a municipal inspection report.

The report, compiled by independent investigator George Cuff and released publicly on Aug. 29, looks at a wide range of governance factors affecting the city.

Documents councillors should consult when making their decisions have instead become the authority that determines what gets done. Cuff points to a 2014 document titled Community Vision and Pillars of Sustainability as one example of where council has taken a backwards approach to its role, as the document supersedes the strategic plan as well as council’s own goals and strategies.

“This begs the question: ‘Who represents the community: Council or a 2014 ‘community vision’ process?’ ” Cuff wrote.

Part of the problem appears to stem from the 88 policies governing the city, which Cuff says reflect an administrative attitude rather than the viewpoint of city council.

He recommends an immediate review of all policies and at one point in the report refers to a “maze of policies” governing the corporate planning process, which all refer to or duplicate one another.

Another example he gives is a policy on council’s strategic outcomes, goals and priorities, which is eight pages long.

“The results show that this process was not strategic … and not focused on a vision developed by council,” he wrote.

“The sheer number of priorities can be expected to divert council’s attention away from the broader vision and goals.”

Additionally, Cuff describes an ongoing focus on detail by councillors that has corroded council’s relationship with its administration and dragged council into the weeds on issues it should be taking a broader approach to.

“Council’s ongoing focus on detail runs counter to what it describes as its policy focus and seems to ensure that a real policy leadership focus will lag even though it is spoken of fairly frequently,” Cuff wrote.

Mayor Nolan Crouse agreed that council gets into too many details, but said he doesn’t think this affects council’s overarching vision.

Coun. Cam MacKay said he agrees with Cuff’s report, adding he has observed a cycle during his time on council where administration looks for guidance by bringing forward policies and councillors add more detail to the policies, which results in “tying the hands of elected officials.”

“It’s become a difficult cycle,” he said.

“I think there should be less priorities, more simply worded, and more focus on policy toward those priorities.”

Coun. Cathy Heron said the problem goes back to governance training and a lack of trust in city staff.

“We’re not a watchdog to our staff … This term has been marred with distrust,” she said.

“You can absolutely question (staff) but we need to be careful how deep into the weeds we go with those questions.”

Both Heron and MacKay are running for mayor. Mayor Nolan Crouse is not running.


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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette