WHAT is a MUNICIPAL AUDIT? Part 2

The Turner Valley Rate Payers Board is pleased to publish part 2 of this guest contribution on our Blog Site. Vicky McGonigle is retired from her family and children’s law practice after 30 years. Vickey served as the Mayor of Turner Valley from 1983 to 1989 and was also employed as the Chief Administration Officer of Longview, Alberta. We are grateful for her efforts in providing this article.

How can Council Lead on This issue?

There are five cardinal rules to adopt and follow:

1.     Council must determine long term goals. For the Town as a whole (that is the “easy one”), and for each division of administration. They need to determine how they wish their administration to function in the long term and to set clear and realizable goals for operations, communications, transparency, accountability, growth, and management of financial goals and strategies.

2.     Once that heavy lifting is done, Council must clearly communicate to both administration and the ratepayers “what success looks like”. Define the long term goals by providing a clearly communicated picture of how they want to improve the organization.

3.     All levels of management must be required to sign onto the new strategic goals. They should be required to provide Council with quarterly operating reviews addressing these goals and how they have been able to move forward in support of these goals. The C.A.O. should then prepare a quarterly review for Council summarizing the progress toward success. Council should also prepare for the community a quarterly summary of movement toward the strategic and managerial goals.

4.     In order to make all of this possible, the strategic goals identified by Council need to be presented to the administrative managers with clarity. Long term goals need to be explained in advance.

5.     Council should be strong enough to mandate that achievement of these goals is the “responsibility of management at every level”. Knowing the goals is not enough. There must be an institutional imperative for achievement of these goals.

Now that you know what you want, how do you get it?

More leadership! Council should work with the C.A.O. to create an objectively structured framework for each department.

The creation of such a framework would ideally involve engagement with the employees on the front line, the residents, and management. Ultimately the Council and C.A.O. are seeking a framework that can later be used for assessment.

  • It would be available to Council and Senior Management.
  • It would become a benchmark against which a department can do ongoing assessment.
  • It must include long term goals and summarize current achievements.
  • It will then be available to identify gaps or duplication in service, and to drive positive change and demonstrable goal achievement.

Management vs. Leadership

A review of current management practice literature has identified that leadership is most identifiable when it involves engagement with all members of your team. In a Municipal context, this means a reduction within administration of “conversation protocols” For instance, the C.A.O. should speak regularly to equipment operators, not just the Public Works Manager. Greater achievement is fostered by the old fashioned team approach than by the more common linear communications restrictive ladder. In short, team members are far more successful at goal achievement than are “supervisors”.

According to the Harvard Business Review, too many layers of supervision impedes the ability of front-line workers to achieve their goals. They increase workload and decrease efficiency.  The more managers between the C.A.O. and the front-line worker, the more “created work” is required to support the mid-level managers.

In reviewing Turner Valley’s organizational chart, there are the following levels of management:

1.     C.A.O.

2.     Seven Senior Managers or Directors

3.     One second level Manager

4.     Three third level Managers

Then you have the entire Sheep River Regional Utility Corporation level of Management as well. The extent of the management in this municipally owned organization is as yet unclear to the writer. However, it is noted that included in the Guiding Principles of SRRUC is the following: “demonstrating accountability to stakeholders” and “achieve operating cost efficiency and operations stability over time to provide high quality service”.  These are admirable goals, but I would ask you to remember that they are only effective if they are accompanied by a strategic financial plan, developed with community and staff engagement, leadership, and clear communication to management, staff and constituents of these strategic financial and operational goals.

Thanks again to the Turner Valley Ratepayers Board for the opportunity to address these issues.

Research Credits:

Government of Alberta, Municipal Affairs website; “Quick Guide to Financial Statements”

Globe and Mail.com, Leadership Lab, Merge Gupta-Sunderji, May 12, 2018

Harvard Business Review, June 12, 2014, Michael Mankins, “The True Cost of Hiring Yet Another Manager”

Town of Turner Valley.ca, “Organizational Chart”

SRRUC website, Home Page

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