Who Runs City Hall? PATTON



The vacant unit tax and city staff failing or refusing to answer how effective it is, begs the question … who runs city hall? Council or staff:

Mike Patton is the former communications director for Mayor Larry O’Brien and a Conservative activist.




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5 Responses

  1. The Voter says:

    Simple answer is C) None of the above.

    Because of the leadership vacuum around the Council table, staff gets to do almost whatever they want. They know there’s going to be little, if any, oversight and rarely any follow-up on decisions so they diligently implement the ones they like and give short shrift to the others.

    Because of the control of information by staff, councillors don’t know the things they need to know and often don’t know that they don’t have all the information they need in order to govern properly. Some of them are quite happy to coast along in ignorance. After all, if they were fully informed, they might have to take some action. Others are eager to do their jobs but are stonewalled by the barriers in their way.

    You can’t govern responsibly without having all the information you need to take a decision. This was amply demonstrated with the series of fiascos that is the LRT. Staff and the mayor of the day deliberately withheld and/or manipulated information from some or all of Council leading them to take decisions they would not have had they been fully informed. There have yet to be any consequences for that which is an implicit endorsement of the behaviour.

    We have a mayor who has asked staff in a Council meeting if they’re okay with a proposed amendment to a report’s recommendations and then said since staff approves it, he’ll vote in favour. Cart pulling the horse much?

    Community organizations and individual residents can’t access information that would allow them to put pressure on staff and elected officials to act or not act in specific ways. So-called community “consultations” are set up to control what information goes out and what happens with the information that comes in.

    Commercial interests, including but not limited to the development community, exercise their influence with both staff and politicians behind closed doors. Yes, there’s a lobbyist registry but do we really know what goes on in private meetings? Staff may be influenced by the possibilities of a career after city hall while politicians have expensive election campaigns to fund.

    The long and the short of it is that nobody is actively “running” City Hall.

  2. Ron Benn says:

    The answer to who runs city hall is … management. Same as a for profit business.

    The Board of Directors in functional organizations has a variety of roles: oversight (the verb meaning supervision); direction (inherent in the title Director); sober second thought; guidance. Directors are there to challenge management decisions. Not in a pejorative manner. Rather “Are you sure this is the best decision?”; “What alternatives did you consider?” and “Given the alternatives why did you select this one?” Directors shouldn’t have to ask management how the effectiveness of the decision will be measured, because a competent management team would have told them that in their initial report.

    City Council should provide the same function as a Board of Directors. Too many years ago, the elected officials in the much smaller City of Ottawa was called the Board of Control. The key word being control.

    In Ottawa, city council is not performing its role as required, either by statute or historic standard. Observation of committee and council meeting interactions between staff and councillors demonstrate two clear conclusions.

    First is that staff lack anything approximating respect for council as a whole. Incomplete reports, facile non-answers to questions posed. Management is not presenting to council to seek direction, guidance, or helpful suggestions on how to improve the recommended decision. Management is there because they are required, by statute, to be there.

    Second, council as a whole lacks the skill sets required to provide meaningful oversight (the verb – see above). Council as a whole willingly allows itself to be led by management. Which is why management has no respect for council. That councillors, individually and collectively either don’t recognize this lack of respect, or just accept the lack of respect, is a sad commentary on their ability to provide their statutory obligation of oversight (again, the verb).

  3. The Voter says:


    Board of Control at the old City of Ottawa was not the city council.

    There was a two-level structure in city governance in those days with council made up of aldermen elected on a ward basis and Board of Control consisting of five controllers, including the mayor, elected city-wide. Board of Control existed until 1980. Until the 70’s, there were two aldermen elected per ward with the one with the most votes appointed, along with the mayor, to a seat on Regional Government. After the second seat was removed, all city councillors including the mayor served concurrently on Regional Council. From 1994, regional councillors were no longer selected through local councils but directly elected on a ward basis. Until the early 80’s, the council term was two years and virtually all councillors were part time.

    Board of Control functioned as the executive over council with final approval of most fiscal decisions made by aldermen including the budget.

  4. Ron Benn says:

    Thank you for the clarification Voter. The point I was trying to make was that once upon a time, there were elected officials at a municipal level who were not only tasked with oversight (the verb) of the affairs of the city, but actually performed the prescribed duties. Thus the term Control. It was my recollection (perhaps flavoured by far too many intervening years) that they actually performed their duties.

  5. Ken Gray says:


    We have had so many years of bad government based on public relations rather than doing the job (witness the results of LRT) that people on council think that is the way civic government works. The culture of Jim Watson will take a generation to fix … if ever.

    We’ve seen a diminution of ethics and diligence in society that is now perceived as the norm. We might never see oversight and good governance again.

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