At the March 5 Saanich council meeting, I witnessed councillors as they debated the merits of a turning circle versus a T turn-around at the end of a rural road. This discussion went on for almost an hour, and ended without a clear resolution. During the discussion, no one on council asked the right question, which was: why are we talking about this? My question is why does council waste its time and our tax dollars on matters that could easily be made by staff?
As a former member of the Governance Review Citizen Advisory Committee, I put what I witnessed Monday night in the context of our committee’s recommendation for better leadership from council. We said in our October 2017 report that council needs to up its game in leadership. The citizens of Saanich don’t need the councillors to be managers; the district already has a strong staff management team. What we need, what we expect, is leadership from council.
Possibly the most important recommendation in the Citizen Advisory Committee report was for council to adopt policy governance as its governance model. This could result a very big improvement in the way council now conducts its business. Policy governance is a system in which council sets direction and establishes the outcomes it wants, and staff is held responsible and accountable for delivering those outcomes.
It’s possible that the present council would have difficulty being clear about the outcomes it wants, as it hasn’t got much practice in doing so. Setting out clear outcomes is difficult. It requires clear thinking, a collegial atmosphere, a co-operative spirit, and awareness of existing plans such as the official community plan. It’s much easier to get drawn into and focus on the minutia of management issues. That is where the present council seems to spend most of its time.
Perhaps an example would be helpful. Council has held several committee of the whole or town hall meetings in an attempt to figure out how to manage the EDPA issue. But it’s not council’s job to manage that issue. Council’s job is to determine whether it wants such a bylaw, and if so what outcomes it wants the bylaw to achieve. Then, direct staff to develop and present, within a set timeframe, policy options to make it workable. Staff would then be held accountable to implement what is decided. The hardest work is to determine what outcomes the council wants the bylaw to achieve.
Adopting policy governance, if properly implemented, would bring a radical change to the way council does its business. It would offload the management work back onto the staff, where it belongs. Council would have the time to lead. Isn’t that the council we want?