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Posted: February 16, 2020

Cranbrook citizens, there’s something you ought to know

“Perceptions,” by Gerry Warner

Op-Ed Commentary

To state it succinctly, your city government is in a mess. At times, it’s close to being dysfunctional. But you don’t have to take it from me. It’s all spelled out in a confidential report prepared by George B. Cuff and Associates of Calgary, one of the most respected consulting firms on civic government in all of Canada.

In the conclusion to his report, Cuff said: “There is currently a significant gap between the city’s reality and its potential . . . Cranbrook is fundamentally sound, but an internal organizational culture change is needed to let the city develop its potential.” But a detailed reading of the report shows that the city’s management problems are numerous.

Cuff’s team travelled to Cranbrook and interviewed every council member, including the mayor and several city department heads. The report was issued Oct. 29 last year and the city sat on it until two Freedom of Information requests were filed and the city finally issued a highly redacted (censored) report this week.

Why did it take the city so long? You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to figure that out. The city didn’t want Cranbrook taxpayers to see it. So, they put their lawyers to work to see that the report remained confidential and spent your tax money doing it. But thanks to the FOI legislation the report was finally issued. However, keep in mind the report issued is highly redacted with material censored on 29 of its 96 pages. In other words, you’re still not getting the full story but at least you’re getting something your elected officials didn’t want you to see.

Where to begin? How about P. 22 where it says: “morale has plummeted” at City Hall and work is not enjoyable “but to be endured.” Or P.17 where it says there’s been “a loss of trust in and among council.” On P. 27 it says: “more good managers will be leaving the city if conditions do not improve.”

How about P. 35: “It’s clear that the environment in City Hall will not change overnight” and then the rest of the page is blacked out. What was said there? And then there’s P. 57 where it says there has been so many resignations and dismissals at City Hall that the city has resorted to “a practice of finding lower calibre people in their employment searches.” On P. 63 the report says productive city councils need to have “open communication” and both Mayor and Council “working off the same page.”

It adds good city government is more than just the mayor deciding and councillors simply approving. “This has to be a team effort.” The city also operated without a human resources officer for more than a year and one council member suddenly resigned shortly after being re-elected in a puzzling exit.

The foregoing should give you the flavour of the report but obviously there’s lots more to be told. Nevertheless, a picture emerges of a stressed and unhappy city government sorely divided.

It seems that many on council don’t get along with the mayor or with each other. Teamwork is difficult, morale low and decision making has broken down in what amounts to a purge.

In one dismissal case, court filings indicate a senior manager sued the city for wrongful dismissal and the city settled out of court. The employee had an annual salary of $104,868 and alleged “intimidation” and “harassment.” Can you imagine what the taxpayers paid for this settlement?

A major matter not in the redacted Cuff Report, but likely in the uncensored report received by council, was the situation with city Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) David Kim. All the city has ever said about Kim is that he’s on medical leave and has been so for months. But when you look at the city’s web page he’s still listed as CAO and few outside City Hall know if he’s still receiving his $225,000 salary or if he kept the generous $50,000 signing bonus he received in his latest contract? And why did Mayor and council hire a CAO who refused to move to Cranbrook? It’s possible that Kim’s situation figures heavily in the censored part of the Cuff Report – at one point an entire page is redacted – but we’ll never know because his situation is a personnel matter and protected under the FOI legislation.

But as a taxpayer paying the bills for this, including the cost of the Cuff Report, wouldn’t you like to know these details? There’s obviously more going on than we know. Much more, but we may never know. In light of this, I challenge the city to release the Cuff Report to the people of Cranbrook. It’s their city. They paid for it and surely they deserve to know!

I also challenge Cranbrook citizens themselves to get off their apathetic butts and demand the city release the report. Call the mayor. Call your favourite councillor. Get engaged.

Otherwise you deserve the secretive government you’ve been getting.

– Gerry Warner is a retired journalist, who believes good government begins with transparency

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