Editorial: Candidate profiling highlights how staff work should be more transparent

If profiling the norm, perhaps it’s time more municipalities disclose how they allot staff time to these ventures

Saanich Mayor Richard Atwell chose to release documents this week that show staff members were attending all-candidates meetings to profile candidates and identify emerging issues during last month’s election campaign.

Someone then took the time to assess each candidate’s stance on major issues like sewage treatment, amalgamation, deer culling and youth engagement and presented those assessments to their colleagues at a Nov. 12 meeting, just three days before the election.

According to public administration expert and University of Victoria assistant Prof. Kimberly Speers, that practice in and of itself isn’t abnormal within bureaucratic silos. The most notable curiosity here is that Atwell chose to make the document public, she says.

If that is the case, then perhaps it’s time more municipalities disclose how they allot staff time (and subsequently residents’ property tax dollars) to these ventures, which to the unseasoned eye appear to present inherent problems for staff who are meant to be functioning in non-partisan roles.

Atwell, to his credit, is walking his talk in terms of opening up information to public scrutiny as much as he can. But he needs to tread carefully as staff adjust to his tenure.

A change at the top inevitably means change below, but it needs to be done collaboratively and with respect of past experience within the organization.

The vast majority of employees at the District of Saanich no doubt do excellent work, and they’d be happy to allow residents a chance to see how they operate.

But these same staff know that a new mayor allows them an opportunity to speak up about what’s not working within the walls of municipal hall. The process of identifying any dysfunction and fixing those potential problems takes time, patience and a lot of clear and open communication in any organization, let alone one with a few thousand employees.