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MAYOR IN HINDSIGHT: When to go into the weeds

At council tables across Canada, mayors, reeves and councillors are told by governance experts to stay at the policy level and avoid “diving into the weeds.

Retraction and apology

An article entitled “Mayor in Hindsight: When to go into the weeds” by Nolan Crouse published in the St. Albert Gazette on April 18, 2024 and on on April 30, 2024 incorrectly stated that Hockey Canada “appears to have been hiding information from the public and from the police and from elected officials.” In fact, Hockey Canada reported an incident involving an alleged sexual assault by members of Canada’s 2018 world junior hockey team to the London Police Service within hours of becoming aware of the incident, and reported the incident to Sport Canada approximately one week later.

The Gazette retracts the inaccurate statements and apologizes to Hockey Canada for the error.

At council tables across Canada, mayors, reeves and councillors are told by governance experts to stay at the policy level and avoid “diving into the weeds.”

But speaking as a former mayor – a mayor in hindsight, if you will – that isn’t always possible, or even desirable.

Staying at the governing level, until something goes wrong, until all hell breaks loose or until there is an issue that the community sees out of control sounds like it makes sense, but does it always?

When crime spikes, for example, 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 the type of instance when elected officials need to get into the weeds. 

But councils often take a lame governance solution, as they do with crime. 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.   

Debacles such as these happen when governing bodies minimize their own powers by exercising their desire to be hands-off and to deal with policy only.

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. Bylaws matter. Having one’s finger on the pulse of things matters even more.

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.

Mayors and reeves in Canada should do more “Gemba Walks” – and they don’t need to create a policy or a committee to make them happen.

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