POLITICAL ACUMEN TOOLKIT:
ADMINISTRATION & COUNCIL

Navigating the relationship between Administration and Council as a CAO can be challenging. Even when it seems like things are going well, this can change quickly and often without warning. CAOs who receive the highest accolades can still find themselves moving to new positions only a short while later. For this reason, it is necessary to maintain neutrality as an Administration and separation between the roles and responsibilities of the CAO and staff versus the roles and responsibilities of elected officials and Council.

The following section describes common pitfalls and tips for managing the following areas of Administration and Council interactions:

Council Meetings

Because of the public nature of Council meetings, the relationship between the CAO and Council becomes most visible here to other staff, the public, and the press who are often in attendance. Here are some key strategies for managing these highly evident interactions.

Non-Verbal Communication
Our non-verbal communication speaks volumes. In Albert Mehrabian’s book on Nonverbal Communication (1972), he asserted that 55% of communication is body language, 38% of communication is the tone of voice, and 7% is the actual words spoken. While these numbers are overused and have been refuted/clarified since the original studies, they highlight how much we can read from non-verbal cues alone.

Keeping this in mind during Council meetings is important. Often it is not what is said but rather how one reacts with their facial expressions, posture, sighs and other non-verbal cues that demonstrates how well or poorly a Council and its CAO/Administration are working together. Be aware of what your body is communicating and try to stay neutral with your words, actions, and interactions.

Seating
In some instances, the CAO sits with Council at the Council table, while in others, the CAO and his or her team sit separately. For those who sit at the same table, it can be difficult for the public to tell who is elected and who is not. The CAO may also be perceived as being of the same stature as the elected official, which is not the case. While some Heads of Council may need or want the CAO beside them, particularly if they are not strong leaders, this can create false perceptions.

 

Best Practice: Whenever possible, separate staff from elected officials in Council Chambers or around the Council table.

 

Role of Administration
Administration attends Council meetings as advisors and to provide information, analysis and recommendations that will enable informed decision-making by Council. Discussion on each agenda item should be amongst elected officials with input from staff only when requested. In other words, the Administration should only speak when spoken to. CAOs often have a habit of contributing when they should remain silent. This becomes particularly true the longer a CAO remains in the same community, if the CAO lacks political acumen.

Seasoned CAOs recommend taking training in as many core competency areas as possible to add tools to your CAO toolkit when working with Council (Constantinou, 2017). In addition, it is important not to be afraid of making mistakes and learning from them. Mistakes help you learn and build your political acuity so that you can better achieve both your personal career goals and the goals of your municipality.

Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Part of having a successful Council meeting involves taking a comprehensive review of every matter coming before Council. You need to anticipate every possible angle. Ask yourself:

  • What will the reaction/level of acceptance of different community groups be? Remember, your community is not homogenous, and there could be varying perspectives.
  • Will the issue/decision impact neighbouring communities? If so, how and what might be the consequences of this impact?
  • What could the political ramifications be for one or more local politicians?

CAOs need to provide mentorship and leadership to their management team to put together information for Council. Materials prepared for a Council meeting should also be comprehensive, yet succinct. Summarize only the relevant points on a request for decision (RFD) template that is no longer than two pages and has a clear statement for Council’s consideration and decision. An RFD template and sample RFDs have been included with this section as a downloadable resource.

Additional Resources:

Downloadable Resources:

Council Agendas
Part of adequately preparing for a Council meeting is planning an appropriate and achievable agenda. CAOs can be their own worst enemies by making agendas far too long or adding items that have no business being on a Council agenda. Agendas should be concise and only include topics that Council needs to approve or act on. Furthermore, Council agendas should align with the municipality’s strategic plan. If the discussion item is does not align with the strategy adopted by Council, it is not a priority for discussion, unless otherwise agreed by Council.

Items being provided for information only should be sent to Council outside of the agenda package. For example, cheque registries are often included on Council agendas for review when they should not be. If Council has approved a budget and a spending policy has been put in place, then the CAO should be able to issue cheques without discussing these matters with Council. The cheque registry can be provided to Council for information but should not be a standing item on the Council agenda.

In many jurisdictions, a Council Procedure Bylaw is the mechanism used to determine what is contained in the Council agenda. If you do not have a Procedure Bylaw or do not wish to adopt one then, with Council’s support, you can implement whatever works best for your municipality. If your current Procedure Bylaw requires you to add items to the agenda that do not require a specific action from Council, then it may be worthwhile discussing a change to this procedure with Council. Procedural changes such as these are often best deliberated immediately following an election when shifts are already happening. Alternatively, you can gradually lighten the agenda by removing items slowly. However, this should always be done with Council’s input and awareness.

Agendas should only include what is required by legislation, regulation or bylaw, and what Council is required to act on by adopting a bylaw or approving a resolution. For example, if there is only one new business item to be discussed, the agenda can be as simple as this:

  • Call to Order and Related Business
  • New Business
    • new business item
  • Adjournment

However, there is also a need to balance a lean agenda with transparency. Agendas should not be so brief they miss important information that should be provided to Administration, Council or the Public. Administration needs to inform Council of key issues, and councillors should report their activities to Council as a whole and by extension the public. Finding the balance between transparency and brevity requires political acuity.

Some municipalities hold a meeting with their Senior Management Team and the Head of Council to set the Council agenda a week in advance. Preparing the agenda with this group can help ensure agenda items are strategically placed and prevent items that may seem contradictory to the public from being added. This is also an appropriate forum to discuss and decide which items should be discussed in an open or in-camera session.

Please see the agenda template and samples included as downloadable resources for more information on developing effective Council agendas.

Downloadable Resources:

 

Council Remuneration

Council remuneration can be an uncomfortable and challenging topic to tackle for both the CAO and elected officials. Further complicating matters is public opinion, which can considerably influence the overall process. Here is one approach to handling the issue of Council remuneration that has been successful in some municipalities. Note that this public engagement strategy can also be applied to a variety of contentious topics coming before Council.

Public Perception & Public Participation
One of the best strategies for addressing public perception and opinion is public participation. Engagement specialists can offer multiple strategies for involving the public, but one approach that works well is establishing a citizen’s committee. A citizen’s committee, sometimes referred to as a citizen jury, is a group of randomly selected citizens brought together to review a complex issue and make recommendations. This group should be made up of a diversity of representatives from varying demographics. Citizen committees can be either paid or volunteer. While paid committees may receive more interest, volunteer committees are recommended whenever possible as they remove the politics from the situation for both the CAO and Council.

A citizen’s committee can make recommendations, but they still need to be implemented by Council through a resolution or bylaw. However, while the final decision-making authority still lies with Council, the public is often more supportive of the decision as they believe an independent group has determined how the issue should be addressed. The public will also see Council as being open and transparent on the subject matter, improving overall public perception.

This strategy also promotes a positive relationship between Administration and Council because it offers a solution that maintains Council’s decision-making power while still making them look good in the eyes of the public. This, in turn, demonstrates political acuity on the part of the CAO. For these reasons, this approach is becoming increasingly popular for resolving a variety of contentious issues, including Council remuneration.

For an example of how a citizen’s committee has been used, please see the St. Albert Council Remuneration Review Committee Final Report from 2016.

Downloadable Resources:

 

Council Ethics

Many CAOs face challenges in navigating Council ethics. Whether it is harassment, failing to disclose a conflict of interest, a breach of confidentiality, or a Councillor attempting to strong arm a decision in their political favour, the CAO plays a significant role in ensuring ethics are maintained and enforced. Council Orientations for newly elected officials should always address this topic, and when needed, other tools such as policies or bylaws can be put in place to support and encourage best practices in this area.

Harassment
Recent articles by both Municipal World and the CBC have highlighted a prevalent issue for municipal administrators across the country, namely harassment of municipal staff by Council members. In Municipal World’s article, Councillors Behaving Badly, the authors cite an Ontario survey where “77 percent of respondents reported harassment and bullying by elected officials, with 76 percent stating that they had personally been at the receiving end of harassment by a member of Council”. The CBC exposé, Toxic Towns, further describes the issue in Saskatchewan where administrators face bullying, harassment, and even physical abuse with limited avenues for recourse. The effects of harassment can be substantial emotionally and physically, from extreme stress, anxiety, and depression to even more severe health impacts.

Maintaining Council Ethics – Speaking Truth to Power
Standing up to Councillors who are harassing you or acting outside the bounds of ethics and proper Council behaviour can be challenging. While clear protocols for reporting often exist in staff to staff relationships, they are blurred in an administrator to Council relationship. This is mainly because Council’s accountability to an external entity is either unclear or non-existent. How do you enforce protocols if Council is accountable only to themselves? Code of Conduct policies and Council Orientations can help educate but often do little in the way of truly compelling good behaviour by including and enforcing some form of reprimand. Indeed, a lot more can be done to support education, training and assistance in this area across the Country.

Some strategies for preventing and addressing harassment and other unethical behaviours from Councillors include:

Implementing a Code of Conduct or Council Ethics bylaw or policy:
Implementing strong bylaws and policies is the first step to ensuring everyone knows the requirements. In addition to outlining proper behaviour, these documents should also describe protocols for reporting complaints and consequences for contraventions of the code, bylaw, or policy.

In some provinces and territories, the legislation governing municipalities requires Council to pass a Code of Ethics or a Code of Conduct Bylaw, but this should be put in place even where not required. While any sanctions against an elected official may be limited, an ethics bylaw does serve the purpose of providing Councillors with a set of rules on how to behave as an elected official. Examples of penalties that have been included for Council members who violate a policy include:

      • Censure or reprimand
      • Education/training on ethics, harassment, etc.
      • Removal from an advisory committee or local board
      • Removal from being the Chair of a committee or local board
      • Removal as Head of Council or Deputy position
      • Repayment or reimbursement of monies received
      • Returning property or items, or reimbursing their value
      • Issuance of a formal apology to Council, the complainant, or both
      • Suspension of remuneration paid for a period of up to ninety (90) days

Sample bylaws and policies from across the country are attached to this section for your reference. Many of them include strong examples of procedures, forms, and protocols for issuing an informal or formal complaint regarding a breach of conduct.

Council Orientation:
Council orientations are mandatory in some jurisdictions but not all. Either way, including a module on your Code of Conduct or Council Ethics within an orientation session is fundamental to ensuring new Councillors are aware of what constitutes appropriate behaviour.

When including Council ethics as part of a Council orientation session, it is advisable to bring in external legal counsel to speak to various topics, such as conflict of interest, breach of confidentiality, etc. Elected officials are often more receptive and less likely to challenge advice from external legal counsel than they would be advice from the CAO or other staff. Please see the Council Orientations section for more information.

Provide training to Councillors and Staff:
In addition to reviewing ethics during a Council orientation session, it is important to provide training opportunities that further educate Councillors on the subject matter. Training should also be provided to staff to ensure everyone is on the same page. Offering this training on a regular basis and not just at the outset of a Council’s term can also help drive appropriate behaviours over the long-term.

Create a harassment-free culture:
Encourage an environment where harassment is not tolerated. Get Council on board with promoting a workplace culture that encourages others to speak up when they witness harassment occurring without fear of reprisal. Undeniably, one of the greatest tools we have as a society to correct unwanted behaviour is to speak up on other’s behalf when we see unethical and corrupt conduct occurring.

Using investigators when needed:
Another option is to bring in the help of a third-party mediator or an investigator provided by lodging a complaint with Occupational Health & Safety (OH&S), WorkSafe or other regulatory/legislative bodies overseeing workplace ethics and harassment. Bringing in an external expert on harassment can help bring objectivity to the situation. While many administrators and staff members fear this step will lead to their dismissal, this process can help resolve the issue and make it clear that your organization will not tolerate harassment.

 

Best Practices:
• Establish a Code of Ethics or Code of Conduct Bylaw and Policy that all Councillors must review and sign.
• Provide education on Council ethics through Council orientation and training sessions.

 

Case Studies

Downloadable Resources

Additional Resources:

 

Council Orientations

Council orientations are mandatory in some jurisdictions but not all. No matter what your requirement is, a Council Orientation is one of the first training sessions that should be contemplated after a general municipal election. A best practice that has been adopted by some municipalities is the creation of a Candidate’s Information Handbook that contains valuable information for those running for office. Among many other things, this handbook should outline dates for a required Council Orientation session with all elected officials. This ensures those running for office are aware they will be expected to attend an orientation if they are elected. Depending upon the complexities of your municipality, the orientation should take no less than a half day and up to as many as five days to cover all the required information. The longer the orientation, the more likely it will need to be spread over different days/weeks.

In some jurisdictions, the legislation identifies what the Council orientation is required to address. For example, one province requires the following:

  • The role of municipalities
  • The municipal organization and its functions
  • Key municipal plans, policies and projects
  • Roles and responsibilities of Council and Councillors
  • The municipality’s code of conduct (see Council Ethics).
  • Roles and responsibilities of the CAO and staff
  • Budgeting and financial administration
  • Public participation
  • Any other topic prescribed by the regulations.

The mentorship presentation included as part of the Political Acumen Toolkit provides multiple slides that can be useful when developing your Council orientation presentation. Sections that may be useful, include Council-CAO Roles, Strategic Planning, Ratepayer and Resident Associations, Tax Recovery, Public Hearings, Appeal Boards, Public Engagement, Intermunicipal Organizations, Talking to the Media, and Social Media. Sample presentations from various locations have also been included as downloadable resources to provide inspiration when developing your own council orientation.

While the agenda may vary across jurisdictions and municipalities, the overarching purpose and importance of an orientation session is to ensure elected officials understand their role in governance and municipal service delivery. By providing each new Council with the information they require to get off to a good start and govern successfully, a CAO can build trust from the get-go, establishing a strong Council-CAO working relationship and ensuring Council has confidence in the CAO’s abilities.

Typically, Council orientations are conducted by a neutral third party. However, this does not mean that Administration cannot complete all or part of the orientation. Many administrations prepare and circulate an Elected Officials Handbook after each election that contains the information Council members should have at their fingertips and provides links to other relevant documents. Providing each new Councillor with a copy of all relevant municipal legislation is also a good idea. The more effort you put into onboarding your municipality’s elected officials, the more likely they and you will get off to a good start.

Downloadable Resources:

 

Council & CAO Relationship

A positive working relationship between a Council and their CAO is vital for a municipality to achieve their goals. A municipality that loses confidence in its CAO is a municipality that begins travelling down the road to replace that individual. Always remember that a CAO is hired at the pleasure of Council. Strong political acuity can help to identify when Council’s direction may be changing, and adjustment is needed. This section outlines various strategies for CAOs to build and maintain a strong relationship with their Council.

Relationship with Council
As a CAO, it is important to be mindful of the relationship you develop with your Council as a whole and with individual Council members. As their one and only employee, you are subject to their whims and wishes. For this reason, you must always put in your best effort to respect the office they are elected to.

Speaking negatively about Council internally or externally is never a good idea. Even when a request from Council seems out of left field and completely irrelevant, remember that the request was made for a reason. While it is easy to be tempted to roll your eyes or make a joke to another staff member, these interactions are rarely unseen. When you are frustrated with Council or a particular Council member, try to look for the root of the issue and find a way to address it positively.

In some cases, such as when sensitive issues go sideways, elected officials will try to redirect blame to preserve their reputation and standing in the community. Typically, this blame is deflected to the CAO. For example, in one municipality, a newly elected Council requested that their CAO review and make changes to transportation services as this was one of the issues they heard while campaigning. When action was not forthcoming from the CAO on this issue after repeated requests, that individual was informed the municipality would be moving in a different direction. A new CAO was brought in and, after hearing the same request from Council, undertook the steps necessary to review and make the changes required to transportation services. Because this was a priority for Council, it also became an immediate priority for the CAO and an action plan was put in place. This is just one example of how political acuity and being sensitive to the needs of Council and the political environment can either make or break you as a CAO.

These dynamics necessitate paying careful attention to how close of a relationship you build with your Council. Certainly, you are expected to have a solid business relationship, but you should exercise caution on how involved you get personally as it could have repercussions. As CAO, you will find that each member of Council is different and unique. Some you can joke with; others you need to be very careful what you say. Either way, it is important to be mindful that they are your boss and that you should treat them all equally and fairly. Treating some Councillors one way and others differently can lead to problems that could easily be avoided. When functioning as a CAO in a smaller community, this can become particularly challenging as everyone knows almost everyone and, in many cases, have pre-existing relationships. There is no specific line in the sand; instead, political acumen is about maintaining the right balance that is appropriate for your particular context.

 

Remember: Elected officials are employers, not friends. It is important to always maintain a professional relationship, even at social events.

 

For more information on harassment between elected officials and the CAO, please see Council Ethics.

No Surprises
One key to success in building and maintaining a positive relationship between the CAO and Council is to establish a culture of “no surprises.” Politicians do not like to be surprised, so it is imperative as a CAO to keep them informed on any anticipated or ongoing issues. As a general rule, you never want your Council to hear about something in the community, or read about something online or in the newspaper, first.

Keeping the lines of communication open and taking a collaborative approach to issues management helps to build trust and a relationship where your Councillors will also keep you informed as the CAO so that you also do not have any surprises. That said, providing regular updates is not without risk. For example, sharing information with Councillors increases the likelihood of sensitive information getting shared publicly. In other cases, it can result in a breach of confidence between the CAO and Council/Staff if Councillors try to get information from other staff members the CAO is legitimately unable to provide (e.g. the names of the employees involved in sensitive issues that should not be released). For this reason, it is always important to be upfront with your elected officials about the information you can and cannot share and the reasons why. All sensitive communications should also be labelled “confidential.”

In some jurisdictions, if one member of Council requests information on the operation and administration of the municipality, the legislation requires that this information be provided not only to the Council member making the request but to all members of Council. No matter where you are, this is a best practice to follow. It can also help to address the issue of all Council members having the same information. However, there will be occasions when a request for information from a member of Council is considered to be private and confidential. In these instances, you will need to rely upon the provisions of your provincial/territorial legislation that deals with access to information and privacy protection.

 

Tip: Sending a weekly update email to Council builds trust and keeps them informed on all relevant issues. It also reduces the time and number of messages required to keep Council up to date on each topic individually.

 

Strategic Planning
Strategic planning is an indispensable municipal process, and the strategic plan can become an effective tool for managing the CAO-Council relationship. Strategic plans outline the priorities and desired results of a municipal efforts over a specific period of time. The strategy is also directly linked to the budget for the municipality in that it provides direction to Administration regarding Council priorities. While a municipality may have multiple strategies, it is essential to develop one overarching strategy that is inclusive of all municipal activities and services that is used to guide the organization as a whole.

Strategic planning allows Council and Administration to work together collaboratively to achieve a vision for their municipality and remain focused on key goals with limited resources. Without a strategic plan, a municipality runs the risk of going from “urgent” matter to “urgent” matter, or never looking beyond what is required to “keep the lights on” each day. For this reason, the plan needs to focus on the big picture or the future vision of the municipality to allow it to be a useful tool in addressing opportunities and challenges of the current situation.

For CAOs, the strategic plan becomes a yardstick for municipal accomplishment. It allows the CAO to demonstrate the effectiveness of their Administration to Council and the community. It also helps the CAO manage their own workload as well as that of their employees by providing a guideline for establishing priorities. Every effort of a municipality should be connected to a focus area in the plan. Therefore, CAOs can use the strategic plan as a tool for keeping Council attentive to the goals of the municipality and denying Council requests, when needed.

Praise & Criticism
Because we are all human, positive and negative feedback alike can influence how we operate in the workplace. Praise can create a boost of energy and motivation for your work; criticism can be the incentive needed to make necessary changes in the way you approach your job. However, taken too far, both can become a detriment through either overconfidence or inertia.

For this reason, it is important not to internalize the highest praise or harshest criticism. Political winds are continually changing and what is satisfaction today could be total displeasure tomorrow. Even recipients of CAO awards for outstanding achievements have been terminated shortly thereafter.

Power Dynamics of One Versus the Whole
A CAO needs to be cautious of an elected official who begins to make “unofficial” requests. While in some cases it may be appropriate to work with a Councillor one-on-one, in other cases it may be seen as preference or worse, collusion. As mentioned above, it is often a requirement to provide information requested by any Council member to all.

Sometimes it can be beneficial for a CAO to work directly with an individual Councillor. For example, when you have one elected official that disagrees on a particular issue that Council is dealing with, it is appropriate for the CAO to spend time with this Councillor to help them better understand the topic. As with all aspects of the CAO position, it is important to remain neutral while explaining so that you are not viewed as lobbying for any one perspective.

 

Remember: While it may seem obvious, always remember who your boss is. It is Council as a whole, not the Head of Council or any individual Council member.

 

Councillor Alliances
Sometimes elected officials will form alliances to achieve political objectives. While it is important to be aware of these alliances, it is equally important not to be seen as being part of or favouring one group over the other. For instance, when Council breaks for dinner and they sit in two different groups, do not sit with either group; stay neutral.

Rogue Elected Officials
A Council member who feels disenfranchised by the CAO is often a dangerous one. They will often go to almost any length to discredit the CAO and to find or create issues. The best way to avoid this is to treat all elected officials respectfully and equally, providing all of them with the same information in a transparent way.

Sometimes political acumen is nothing more than a gut feeling. If your gut is telling you something is off in your relationship with a Council member or with their behaviour in general, it probably is, so tread carefully and avoid situations that could leave you vulnerable. When in doubt, find a mentor to talk to who can provide an outside perspective on how to proceed.

CAO Performance Reviews
CAOs should look forward to and, when needed, even demand an annual performance review. In many provinces and territories, an annual CAO review is a requirement. However, even when it is not mandatory, it is advisable to request a yearly evaluation. Appraisals are your opportunity to officially hear from your Council how well you are discharging your duties from their perspective. It is your report card. It is also an excellent opportunity to confirm what your political acuity radar is telling you. It is critical to you as a CAO to ensure you consider the feedback offered and put in your best efforts going forward.

Please see CAMA’s CAO Performance Evaluation Toolkit for additional information and resources relating to this topic.

Case Studies

Downloadable Resources:

 

Council & Staff Relationships

Interaction amongst Council and Staff is a subject matter that requires clear direction and lines of communication from the CAO. This is often more challenging in smaller municipalities than it is in larger municipalities with more complex organizational structures. Without clear lines of communication and leadership, staff communication with Council can become a challenge for the CAO. In some cases, it can even lead to the CAO being undermined by having a “mole” in the organization.

Clarifying Roles & Responsibilities
It is imperative that the CAO work with and provide leadership to the senior management team to make sure they have a good understanding of political acumen and the role of Council versus that of management. Namely, the role of Council in making decisions versus the role of Administration in providing subject matter expertise and professional advice. Mentorship on this topic should be ongoing to build the overall competency of the municipal organization.

Managing Staff-Council Relationships
It is also important for the CAO to support staff in their relationship with Council by helping to manage Council requests. The CAO needs to be cautious about overcommitting both their own and staff’s time and ability to respond to these requests. When you make a commitment to Council, you need to be able to deliver and if not, inform your Council as soon as possible with the reason for the delay. Be upfront, transparent, and open. Do not hide anything.

A best practice includes establishing a protocol for Council inquires that includes a timeline for response. One strategy used by many municipalities to manage Council demands of staff time is the requirement for Council to make a motion whenever a request is being made. This is particularly relevant if the request represents a substantive amount of work. By requiring a motion, the CAO ensures it is Council as a whole soliciting the efforts of staff and one-off requests are minimized.

Another approach for managing Council requests is to use the strategic plan as a reference point when making commitments to Council. The strategic plan should act as the roadmap for your municipality’s efforts. If a request does not align with the strategic direction of the organization, it may not be required and therefore the strategic plan can provide the rationale to deny unnecessary requests.

The CAO should always lead by example. While we are all human and prone to venting about frustrating situations, the CAO has a duty to reflect Council in a positive light to staff. While the CAO should certainly never speak negatively about Council or any particular Council member publicly, the same rule applies within the organization. Showing staff how to manage frustrations with Council professionally helps ensure they exhibit the same level of competence and political acuity in their Council interactions.

More information on working with staff to provide information to Council can be found in the Council Meetings section of this toolkit.

Staff – CAO Challenges
Addressing challenges employees have with the CAO is never an easy problem to solve. It is important for senior staff to know they have a place to go to discuss any issues they have with their CAO, especially those issues that they may not feel comfortable talking about directly with the CAO. However, deciding where to direct staff is difficult because of the lack of a direct line between these employees and Council.

As the leader of your municipal organization, it is important to provide an environment where staff are comfortable bringing forward issues. In many cases, CAOs have an open-door policy where senior staff are aware that they can come to talk to the CAO about issues, including concerns with them, with no fear of retribution or judgement. Sometimes, this is not possible for various reasons.

If an issue cannot be addressed directly with the CAO and needs to be elevated there are a variety of possible approaches that can be taken. Here are just a few:

  1. Bring in a third-party investigator (e.g. from Occupational Health & Safety, WorkSafe, etc.) to examine and identify a possible resolution to the issue.
  2. The employee can request that a mediator is brought in to resolve the situation.
  3. If a mediator is refused or is not able to be brought in for other reasons, the employee can request to be placed on Council’s agenda at the next meeting to review the concern. This should be treated as an in-camera issue.
  4. If the employee is uncomfortable approaching the CAO to get on the Council’s agenda, they can also go to the Head of Council to request a caucus of Council.

Employees should always speak to Council as a whole and not any individual Council member to minimize the situation becoming a political issue.

The best approach for any situation will vary by location. Part of political acuity is being able to read your local situation to decide the best course of action. In many cases, the process for addressing an issue with the CAO is outlined in the municipality’s Code of Conduct policy. Always review the policy before taking any action. If your municipality does not have a Code of Conduct policy, encourage senior management to draft one according to the requirements of your province or territory’s legislation.

It is important to note that any of these elevated approaches can create risk for both the staff member and the CAO. For example, this opens up a direct line of communication between staff and Council that could lead to termination of one or both of the individuals involved. For this reason, the best approach is for a CAO to treat their staff fairly and create a positive environment where staff are comfortable coming to talk to the CAO directly.

Sometimes it helps to find a mentor to talk to about the best course of action in addressing issues with a CAO. If you do not already have a mentor, please visit our Mentorship Forum to connect to someone who may be able to offer some guidance in this area.

Case Studies

Downloadable Resources:

 

Council Changeover

Council changeover happens any time there is an election or by-election. With municipal elections mostly occurring every four years, the probability of change is high. For example, in a recent municipal election there was over 40% turnover in elected officials.

Even if all the same individuals are voted in, each term brings a new Council. With each election, the culture of Council may differ, the politics may vary, and return Councillors may become more confident in their role. Return Councillors sometimes feel more comfortable “flexing their muscle” due to a perceived authority or a desire to be more visible within the community. They could also have their eyes set on being the Head of Council for the next term and therefore push an agenda to try to make themselves more successful and well-viewed within the community.

Council changes also bring different priorities and different approaches. CAOs need to be able to adapt and immediately start building a relationship with the new Council. If you see signs that there could be a significant departure from how you and the old Council did business, you need to adjust your style quickly, so you are not at risk with the new Council. That said, sometimes it is better to accept when the writing is on the wall and prepare to begin a new chapter elsewhere. Developing the ability to read an election for these signs is a fundamental part of building your political acumen as a CAO.

 

Tip: When preparing to work with newly elected officials, pay attention to the candidate’s election materials to understand their priorities. While these priorities may change after the election, it helps to understand the newly elected Councillor’s motivations and will provide insights as to whether the community supports his or her initiatives.

 

Case Studies

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© Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators

Canadian Association Municipal Administrators
PO Box 128, Station A
Fredericton, NB E3B 4Y2
CANADA

CAMA is a non-profit association open to all senior managers dedicated to improving municipalities in Canada.

Canadian Association Municipal Administrators
PO Box 128, Station A
Fredericton, NB E3B 4Y2
CANADA

© Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators