by Anne Finlay-Stewart

The City of Owen Sound is currently operating with less than a full roster of its key players. How this might affect our game remains to be seen.

The City, like all Ontario municipalities, is a "creature" of the province. Our governing documents were passed in the Legislature at Queen's Park - the Ontario Municipal Act, Planning Act, Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, etcetera. These are the rules by which we play, and the City Clerk is, in some respects, the linesman. In addition to many other detail-oriented tasks she, or he, is responsible for knowing the rulebook intimately and letting the players – both staff and elected officials – know if they are close toste pping out of bounds and risking penalties.

Our own highly-qualified City Clerk began an extended leave last fall after completing a year-long process culminating in an efficiently-run municipal election. Her position is held for her return. The Deputy Clerk became Acting City Clerk, but she too will be going on leave soon to welcome a new baby. The posting for that maternity leave is now closed to applications and according to Mayor Ian Boddy, the successful candidate will be assuming Acting City Clerk responsibilities.

The City Manager, known in some jurisdictions as the Chief Administrative Officer, (CAO) is responsible for "providing leadership and direction to the City administration while ensuring that the policies of City Council are effectively implemented." The City Manager is appointed by the Council itself, and is the only employee directly accountable to them. Every other manager, director and department, from the Fire Department to the Clerk, reports to the City Manager.Filling this position was one of the first priorities of the previous Council after they were elected in 2010, because the Acting City Manager, long-time City Clerk Glen Henry, was due to retire. Council hired the Toronto based firm Feldman Daxon Partners Inc. to do the search, and seemed delighted to appoint Ruth Coursey who brought 25 years of municipal experience, a "wealth of knowledge" and was "known for promoting collaboration and innovation across all segments of municipal government with emphasis on sound fiscal and organizational management practices and superior customer service" according to media coverage at the time.

Since this mayor and council took their seats December 1 last year, the City Manager has had a front seat through their orientation, the budget and development-fee deliberations, and a leading role in the first half of the strategic plan review. That process is only half completed but drafts indicate a shift of focus and tone from the 2011 plan.

Coursey's retirement on April 16 of this year, announced and effective on the same day, was apparently not a universal surprise but succession planning is not immediately obvious. Director of Finance Wayne Ritchie assumed the role of Acting City Manager. Given that Ritchie's own department is set to issue final tax bills in the next six weeks and is dealing individually with many customers' water bills after this wicked winter, one presumes he was not sitting in his office looking for something to do when this situation arose. No mention was made at Council of the broad service analysis Coursey had been directed by Council to undertake this summer.

Potential city managers are not what you might call "thick on the ground". The essential skill set and knowledge-base is broad, but there are qualifications quite specific to the municipal environment. We are not the only ones in recruitment mode – not even the only ones in the region. Orangeville and Grey County are both operating with Acting CAOs – the latter after a two-month hire identified by both parties as "not the right fit".

Owen Sound has some key positions to fill, and there is no off-season in a city. This will take a serious investment of thought, time and - make no mistake – money, while the work and expenses of the municipality roll on.

Losing or substituting players on a team changes the game. When your fielders get called home for supper, sooner or later a ball gets past the remaining players who are trying to cover too much ground.



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