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Word on the Street: Ready to consult

Steve Campbell

In an earlier column, I gave County Council a passing grade on decision-making, bound as they are by the Municipal Act. The Act, should you decide to read it and then kill yourself, is a wide selection of arbitrary rules, conjured up by a pile of lawyers and politicians armed with paranoia, worst-condition thinking and perhaps an ouija board.

It’s sort of like having your parents run everything in your life, assuming your parents are sadistic and insane.

As much as Mama Province calls the shots, our Council is still not off the hook. They have, over the years of failing and falling and getting up, and changing guard so a new horseshoe can fail and fall again, developed some nasty habits.

So here’s my list of pet peeves, in hopes that our councillors will see the light and become at least as smart as me. This advice is free, because I did not hire …

1) Consultants

Sure, we can’t expect our councillors to know everything. They’re only humans with regular-sized human brains, and they actually have personal lives to live, which we don’t have to pay for, so they’re not expected to spend their free time boning up on road surfaces and height restrictions. They have staff for that.

Hmmm … they have staff for that? Oh, yes. And they’re the poor slobs who get downloaded with everything the Council – and us  – throws their way.

I love these guys, and I truly appreciate the work they do, without thanks or spotlights. But if you need something from the County, they have their own set of Rulebooks which will leave you puzzled and frustrated for the three months it takes to get an answer, making you wish you had gone to the dentist for a root canal instead.

And every once in a while, a BIG job comes along, and that’s when the County hires a consulting firm.

I have a number of issues with this.

To start, if someone came up to me and said, “For $500,000, I’ll tell you what to do,” I would likely decline. And not politely.

I happen to know several consultants, and they make their money by digging up information from previous projects, blowing the dust off, changing the names involved in the project, and drawing a new sketch. This could be done by a 16-year-old with a computer and printer, if he had the original file.

Beef #2: The County is now home to several dozen – maybe more than 100 – retired professionals in every field you could imagine – lawyers, architects, city planners, consultants. Some of them are retired quite comfortably, having milked every bone-dumb municipality in Ontario during their careers.

Seriously, these are good people, and their brainpower is available to us, if we would only ask. That’s how the County used to work. That’s how us common folk work. It could work for you, too.

Beef #3: Why do you need to send out crews to know what County people think? Why hire a consultant to tell us what we already know? Of course, we’re not all united in our thinking, and we will scrabble it out with each other, but you are County, the same as us. Plus, true leadership comes from making hard decisions, based on a clear vision of the best path for our future. Just do it. If it fails, back up. That’s how we do it in the business world.

2) Stop Shaking In Your Boots

This may also come from Big Momma (I fell asleep around Page 130), but the County’s obsession with liability insurance is ridiculous. We used to just do stuff. Simple, really. Now when we do stuff, Chicken Little is suddenly squawking around warning that the sky might fall, and then MTO steps in, then the bylaw officer, then a pile of other people who are overly concerned that your park bench might kill somebody.

Geez! Talk about your helicopter parents! Relax. We’re Canadian, and we’re County. We’re not Americans who hope for a big insurance cash cow, and are willing to give up a leg to get it.

Volunteers have been turned away because of the Liability boogeyman, delaying projects and putting even more weight on the already over-worked County staff. Most of us who volunteer know what we’re in for, or we wouldn’t have volunteered.

Trust us. We can do things way faster than you can, and at much less cost. Just have us sign a waiver: “If it turns out I did something stupid and hurt myself, that’s on me. P.S. Sorry for the handwriting, but I put my hand over the barrel of my nail gun to see if it worked. Sorry.” See? Simple.

3) The Way

I’ve studied a lot of businesses and corporations, like yours, over the years. Things have changed a lot since the Good Ol’ Days of the 1980s. The way things are done in Ontario – and indeed North America – has been upwardly focused.

In the ’80s the workers were the ones who brought in the money, straight across the board. Quality and customer service were the leading mandate.

Now things are reversed. The big money doesn’t go to the worker. And the less workers, the better. The shareholders get rich, and the CEOs get richer. This doesn’t strictly apply to our County, especially as we wait to see how the new CAO handles the reigns. But we have also put way too much merit on the supposedly amazing talents of our top government officials.

Every successful business I’ve studied has one thing in common: They know that the workers are what make things tick. Say you want to dig a hole. And you have three lawyers, a consultant, the CEO of Loblaws, Justin Trudeau, a bylaw inspector, a financial advisor and two County Boys to choose from. I think you get the point.

This bugs me because I live in the same County you do. I see the County Boys (No, that’s not sexist, the County Female-engendered are included in the reference. Lighten up) out in every kind of weather. They are here, there and everywhere, and I’m sure they each have a 50-page list of things that need fixing.

But deep inside Shire Hall, I have never received a response from a department head, with the exception of the Economic and Tourism Department, which moves and thinks like I do. I left two phone messages and sent three emails to two other department heads and did not receive a single reply. And it wasn’t even golf season!

The councillors, on the other hand, always return my calls, but that may be because they know I will kick their butts in print if they shun me.

The point is: This ‘lead from the top’ thing does not work. You may think it gives you organization and control, but it doesn’t. As I say, I know a lot of the County Boys, and they can all spin circles around the skills of their supposed ‘leader’. The Leader usually just gets in the way, and often creates a pile of hurdles between the problem and getting the job done.

When I made a request of a County worker, he said: “I’ve got no problem with it. But you have to call XXXX, and he will pass it to YYYY, and then ZZZZ will call me and tell me you can do it.” What kind of world is that?!

A close friend of mine once said: “Steve, you are under the mistaken impression that government is meant to move things forward. No. They are meant to slow things down so that nothing different happens too fast.”

But this is 2020. Nothing moves slowly. Streamline. Change. Tell Mama Province you’ve decided to get an apartment of your own, and that her rules won’t apply in your new home.

I run a business. I survive, more than larger companies, because I’m fast on my feet. I can spot an opportunity and act. I can spot a problem and fix it. And, way more than that, I count on my brilliant co-workers – Jan and Peggy – to build on ideas, and solve problems, and I listen carefully to their expertise. Because they don’t follow my orders, they just believe in what we do.

It’s a happy shop, and we get a lot done. Council could have one too … just toss out a few generations of bad habits.

  • Steve Campbell is editor and publisher of County Magazine, and the author of several books, including The County Handbook: How to Survive in Prince Edward County.

Filed Under: News from Everywhere ElseSteve Campbell

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