Immature City Council Can’t Manage: BENN



What gets measured gets managed.

Staff reported the revenue that the vacant unit tax collected. Not how many once-vacant units are returned into circulation which was the concept behind the vacant unit tax. Revenue.

Speed radar cameras are set up near schools to increase safety by getting drivers to slow down. How successful are these devices in achieving that goal? Not sure, but the city keeps reporting the revenue from the devices. Revenue.

So many policies are developed at a conceptual level to achieve an admirable goal. Yet the people who are tasked with implementing those policies don’t set up systems to measure the success of the policy. They just measure the revenue.

Why are staff limiting their measurements to revenue? Is it because it is the easiest thing to measure? Is it because staff doesn’t know how big the initial problem was? As in, how many vacant units were there that could be put into the rental market before the tax was implemented. How many were added to the vacant unit category, How many were put back into circulation. Some of these meaningful metrics are difficult to measure. Since when is difficultly in measuring something a reason to not measure it? A rhetorical question when asked about city hall.

Unless … staff is measuring the changes, and the results indicate that the solution they created isn’t solving the underlying problem.

Mature organizations understand what needs to be managed, and collect the relevant data to measure performance. Then they report the results. At its simplest level it is called data mining. In mature organizations, the results are reported, irrespective of whether they are good or bad. If the results are not favourable, mature organizations make changes to how the policy is being implemented. In mature organizations, management is making the recommendations for changes before presenting to the board, not waiting for the board to tell them to make some changes.

Therein lies the problem. Ottawa City Hall is not behaving like a mature organization. Staff reports what is members feel like reporting to council. Council should be setting the tone. Council should tell staff what must be reported. But council can’t be bothered to hold staff accountable. Council is failing in its statutory requirement of overseeing the administration of the city.

Why? Because council itself lacks the maturity required to do the job.


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3 Responses

  1. Andrew says:

    Excellent analysis! The goal of a program should be identified and tracked. The media likes revenue, but that is not associated to most goals. The staff have consistently under-performed in their job, which is a serious disappointment (performance reviews should have cleared this up!), and the councillors allow staff to sidestep hard questions and never get the staff to be accountable. A manager should not ever use “I will get back to you with that information” when it is their job to have it.

  2. Ron Benn says:

    Andrew, two possible reasons why staff performance reviews have not cleared up the problems with inadequate reporting:
    > staff are reporting ‘as instructed’, therefore they not failing to meet expectations as set;
    > managers are as incapable of doing their jobs as their staff are in doing their own.

    This council has had a year and a half to evaluate the quality of the reports that they are receiving. To give instructions on how the reports are to be improved. Sufficient time has passed to see the results of those instructions.

    There is ample evidence to conclude that council does not understand that the reports they are receiving from staff are insufficient for council to properly perform their statutory duties of oversight of the administration at city hall.

    This council is not performing its core duties. They are just going through the motions. Literally.

  3. The Voter says:

    When a new or amended policy is presented to Council for approval, it should include the metrics that were used to establish a baseline and those that will be measured as the policy is implemented. Council should have known before passing this program what number of residences were then vacant or at least a reliable estimation. They should have had targets set for reducing that number and stopping any additions to the baseline.

    The money that comes in from the program should have been there as part of the policy to act as a deterrent so that people would choose to have their property occupied rather than pay the fine. It should never have been seen by staff as a money-raising vehicle. It should be set high enough to be an incentive for the property owner to change the occupancy status. We will only know how successful that part of the operation is when we get subsequent filings and can track repeat offenders.

    Andrew makes a good point about staff not being prepared to answer questions at Committee or Council meetings. I have wondered on occasion if they really don’t have the information or if they prefer to get back to the councillor later because it means the response goes just to that person and doesn’t get made in a public forum. Staff should be able to predict most of the questions they’re going to get and, if they can’t do that, we have a different problem on our hands.

    I wonder if it would cut down on the “I’ll get back to you” responses if the eventual answers were appended to the minutes of the meeting for all to see, They should also have a fixed time period in which to provide an answer, say forty-eight hours, or else have to explain why no answer is forthcoming.

    We know what withheld information did to the LRT and Council shouldn’t allow staff to control what information they have in their possession when they make decisions.

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