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Armchair mayor: Someone needs to pay attention to the details

A debate should be had across Canada at council tables when governance experts teach the mayors, reeves, and councillors to stay governing at a policy level.

A debate should be had across Canada at council tables when governance experts teach the mayors, reeves, and councillors to stay governing at a policy level. Elected officials are in conflict at times because the public also demands that their elected representatives dive “into the weeds.”

Staying at the governing level, until something goes wrong, until hell breaks loose or until there is an issue that the community sees out of control makes sense, but does it always make sense? For example, when crime spikes, the community demands action. The local mayor then says: “We let the police do their job and we simply provide the funding."  What? Where is the oversight in that by our elected officials? This is when elected officials need to get into the weeds once in a while. 

Council often takes a lame governance solution, as they do with crime. Governance experts tell them they need to stay governing. They appoint a lame-duck committee made up of non-elected members of the public. The committee works on a lame agenda with lame results, and crime remains high. This scenario repeats itself across Canada over and over again on issue after issue: lame-duck committees with lame results.   

A case in point is Hockey Canada, which appears to have been hiding information from the public and from the police and from elected officials. Then, the public finds out about this hidden information, and the police become involved and we have an investigation. The politicians escape scrutiny because they have no idea what is going on but appoint a lame-duck committee. Elected officials and elected board members like Hockey Canada need to pay attention to the signals and the details. 

Debacles such as these are simply because governing bodies minimize their own powers by exercising their desire to be hands-off and “to deal with policy only." They are told to stay out of the weeds. This armchair mayor believes, “someone needs get into the weeds more often." 

Elected officials must step up across Canada.  Mayors and reeves need to lead this process instead of preaching that “everyone must be hands off of everything unless it is in a policy or bylaw." We cannot be policy perfect. Hands-off is how people get away with all kinds of misconduct, including sexual misconduct. Elected officials are to be held accountable to address everything from graffiti to finance. This requires attention to detail.

Policy development matters a lot. Bylaws matter a lot. Having one’s finger on the pulse of things matters a lot. Elected officials need to get more fingers on the pulses, plus add more policies.  

A term called MBWA (Management By Wandering Around) is what any governing human being should do more of. The term is akin to the Japanese “Gemba Walk” concept that was originally developed by Toyota. A Gemba Walk is a workplace walkthrough which aims to observe and discuss with employees their tasks, the priorities and identify disconnects. Gemba Walk is derived from the Japanese word “Gemba” which means “the real place”, so it is often literally defined as the act of seeing where the actual work happens.

It should be expected that more mayors and reeves in Canada do more “Gemba Walks”.

Do we need to create a policy or a committee that allows Gemba Walks? Let’s hope not.

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