The Thompson Nicola Regional District (TNRD) recently held a training and update session for all council members, area directors and senior staff. Councillor Paula, Councillor/Area Director Kershaw, District CAO Ms. Hannigan, District CFO Ms. Johnson and I attended along with a good number of folks from other communities.
It was a good brush up on what numerous other training sessions had taught as well as presentations around such things as the recent ruling on employers doing random testing for alcohol and drugs. I will state here that I find the ruling against random testing for alcohol is not the correct direction to take. Safety is the issue at hand and employers should have any and all means to make sure their employees are safe. Too many lives are lost due to alcohol and drug use in the workplace not to mention the issues caused by those that choose to drive while impaired in any way.
The session covered a number of topics, and possibly helped to set straight some long held misconceptions of council members from various communities about how they should discharge their duties. For some councillors it has been years since they took the mandatory training after taking office and these sorts of sessions hopefully will put them on track.
There are a number of misconceptions about how councils should operate. One is that councils should operate as a “team.” Many residents hold this view and sadly even some council members hold this belief. These councillors develop a relationship with other members of council and vote with them no matter what. They think this will show to the public that council is acting as a “team” with the best interest of the residents in mind. As a result they never seem to develop the essential skills of approaching issues with an open mind ready to debate an issue on its merits or lack there of. Councils that vote in this manner are as dysfunctional as ones that never agree on anything.
Healthy debate is essential for the democratic process to work. Council needs to properly research the facts and develop their own opinions. Staff is there to provide information and recommendations. Council is charged with the responsibility of actually making the decisions. In some cases councils will take staff input as instructions rather than what they really are, recommendations. This is ridiculous.
Most of these instructional sessions have a few pointers on how council should work with city staff. Various situations are presented to give councillors and senior staff some insight into how to improve workflow and performance. It has been my experience that some of the participants benefit from these lectures more than others.
Let us be honest here, everyone has different levels of abilities in their work. If a council has staff with marginal to no abilities, then the work will suffer. In addition, if council always follows staff recommendations with no debate, then really, why is the council there? Council must be aware of their responsibility to be the decision makers and never fall into the trap of following the path of least resistance just because it is easier.
Interaction is the key to getting the most from these sessions. One newly elected mayor and council, that were in the process of replacing the senior staff in their city, told me that they found the process of staff replacement surprisingly uplifting. One new councillor told me that she was just sick over having to give the staff person their notice, but now that they were in the process of interviewing candidates for the position her views had changed.
She was amazed at how extensive the work experience levels of the proposed applicants were. She also mentioned that council had found, during their review of past decisions, how little the previous staff had contributed during their employment. It became clear to them why previous council never got much done.
While cases such as this are not the norm, they do happen and the city suffers until the problem is fixed.
Legion week starts June 23, with a barbecue in Fadear Park. The RCMP bike rodeo is in the Senior Centre parking lot, plus a number of exhibits. Fun for all.