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by Hendrik Sleglenhorst

On Being a

CAO in Canada

I have long been concerned with

the proposition that not only public

seryants, but also all citizens, are nec- essarily "independent moral actors."

The phrase derives from Harvard

political scientist Dennis Thompson, who has promulgated arguments relat-

ing Io the ethic of neutrality and the

ethic ofstructure. By the ethic of neutrality, admin-

istrators are not to be expected to act

on moral principles of their own, or to

apply personal values, but to discover what the government intends. Debate

is permissible only to the point of pol-

icy decision, and thereafter inappli- cable and inappropriate. By the ethic

of structure, administrators are not,

in general terms, to be held morally responsible for government policies and decisions; their personal moral re- sponsibility extends only to the duties

within the limits of their own office.

Todoy's Reolities

Thompson argues that the ethic of

neutrality does not reflect the reali- ties of public administration today,

in which public servants do develop

policy, and in which narrowness of

choice is impractical and unsustain- able. Thompson further argues that the ethic of structure attempts, wrongly, to disavow the contention that indi-

vidual actions are parl ofa collective act.r Hence, accountability to the state would supersede accountability to the

electorate, and individual indepen-

dence is circumscribed by adherence

to the values of the state.

This is contrary to reality, for ad- ministrators do not act in isolation

of the public implications of their

actions, tend not to jeopardize ac- crued interests (monetary, such as pensions; personal, such as family), acknowledge that the development of

democratic policy is fundamentally

consensual and incremental in nature

(hence, inclusive of opposition), and

recognize that moral situations seldom can be simplified.'z I thus agree with Thompson that

"personal responsibility must extend beyond role responsibility," thaf "la]

ctions and results must count for more

in the public arena than motive or in-

tent," and that "public officials must

exercise foresight regarding the out- comes of their actions."3

Note the distinction between pub- lic officials and elected officials. Quite frankly, however, being a CAO in Canada is now more like a

blood sport; or, as one professional

recruiter acquaintance of mine says, "the position closest to the door."

If something doesn't go right for

council, be assured it won't be their

fault. The days ofthe civil servant are

over; servitude still works, but non- partisan independence has predictable risks. As one of my treasurers astutely observed, "You're only as good as

your last mistake."

Kenneth Kernaghan and John W. Langford, The Responsible Public Sentant (Institute of

Public Administration in Canada, 1990), pp.


Dennis F. Thompson, "The Possibility ofAd-

ministrative Elhics," Public Administration

Review 45 (1985), pp. 555-561.


Whot You Con Reolly Expect

So, leaving aside all the university

teaching about the glories ofpublic ad- ministration in Canada, here's some of

what you really can expect.

1. Too mony elected officiols become pompous, ond loo mqny prefer lo remqin so.

Getting elected is not the same

as being elected. Furthermore, most elected offrcials cannot lead, inspire, or

make a decision. Talk for the sake of

talk, compulsively prevalent in politi-

cal arenas, is the enemy ofdecision and

action. Endless hours ofcouncil debate of a meaningless motion merely puts off engaging the real needs of the commu-

nity that government has responsibility

for ensuring; namely, public safety and

infrastructure. Almost every politician

on the campaign trail promises brev-

ity, decisiveness, and consultation, and

almost every politician once in office

does exactly the opposite. Charles Dickens, in Bleak House,

describing a case ofcivic duty, noted

that the speaker had"a good deal to say, chiefly in parentheses and without

punctuation, but not much to tell." It is

still thus.

2. Trulh is inconvenient.

Consultants will tell council whatev-

er it wants to hear, not what it needs to

hear. Ifthe firm is engaged directly by

HENDRIK SLEGTENHORST is a writer and local government professional, based in Edmonton, Al- berta. His website is at <>.

council, rather than the administration,

the decision has already been made.

3. f}*w*r cnrnup*s.

$ufi gets rje df:rT]fi ed.

Many communities have not taken much care of themselves; and inept gov- ernance, often stretching over decades

and often by the same individuals, has

exacerbated the decline. The consequenc-

es inciude many brownfields, derelict institutional buildings, opportunistic de-

velopment, and gutting of the downtown.


Community pressures, frequently in

the fonn ofnarrow interest groups, pre- vail over any real attention to budgetary responsibility. Moreover, this has become

somewhat circular, with the council of

the day having been elected parlially be-

cause of platforms that were based on a

catechism offiscal probity and restraint,

and the usual panoply of uninformed

vows to get the proverbial house in order.

But disarray, in this scenario, is

naturally a consequence of management

subordination orinsubordination take

your pick on any given day - and not a

consequence of a disconnection between

community expectation and how elected officials have handled the availability of


Cutting costs, reducing debt, im- proving accountability, making the hard

decisions, all became the catchwords of

councillors in the coffee shops. lnexorably, the first big test arrives

at a most unexpected time. Does the

town close a facility that is potentially

unsafe and well beyond its useful life, or does it throw money at it in a zeal of capitulation to a grouping ofinsistent voices in the community? I will let knowledgeable readers supply the inevi-

table answer.

,*." S*y*rnn:en? is n*f c bus!r-l**s.

The bottom line is social capital, not monetary profit. In this regard, a com-

munity govemed without established goals will go nowhere. If one doesn't determine the destination, every deci- sion paves a cul-de-sac. Councils who insist change is necessary generally dis- semble as ever so polite tumcoats. To test




this statement, try to change anything

deemed to be consequential without a council okay. Councils who want orga-

nizational change are generally talking

about organizational decimation. Why have costly people on staff when the

backhoe can shor el whar is necessary into the financial statements?

5. ei*ieen* wffn* * l** {*r ncxf t* n*tl"ling.

Citizens want low taxes, clean water, invisible disposal of human waste, good roads, cheap electricity, instant selice, and no restrictions on their activities, however inconvenient the latter are to

neighbours or the community at large. However, advanced societies are expen- sive, and debt inevitably invites collapse. Nonetheless, citizens want no govern- ment interference, but insist that govem-

ment take responsibiliry for everydhing

that goes wrong. For exan.rple, sue the

govemment when the water rises in the flood plain.

BEING A CAO, cont/d on p. 40

LEADERSHIB cont'd from p. l0

"Some Googlers use their '20 percent

time'to fix an existing project," writes

Pink, "but most use it to develop some-

thing entirely new. In a typical year, more than half of Google's new offer- ings are birthed during this period of pure autonomy." Products like Google News, Gmail, Orkut (Google's social networking software), Google Talk,

Google Sky, and Google Translate all

came from this effort.

Now you may be thinking, that may work for Google, but how are munici-

palities supposed to give autonomy to

staffi, especially when there is little to

no control over project timelines, and

everything the organization does is under public scrutiny? Good question.

While it is true that you may not be able

to choose when some projects must be

completed, you can still allow staffto

work out the logistics or how the plan

will be executed. For many leaders, there are several

causes to be reluctant to give autonomy to staff, such as lack ofconfidence in

the employee, fear of losing control,

concem about failure, and fear ofbe-

ing blamed if things go wrong. First,

acknowledge your reluctance to give

control and then remind yourself of all

the benefits of enabling your staffwith

autonomy. You may not be able to pro-

vide complete autonomy; however, you may allow staff to manage their time

to work on assigned tasks. If possible,

let staffchoose who to work with on

project teams and have them develop

the timelines. You can work with them to set realistic expectations at the begin- ning of a project/assignment and meet

with staffregularly to ensure they are

on track. Generally, employees want to do a

good job and be acknowledged for their effort. A successful leader will engage

their staff by linking individual perfor-

mance to organizational strategies and providing employees with autonomy to

get things done. You will be amazed at

what an engaged workforce can produce if given the opportunity to innovate,

create, and implement. MW

BEING A CAO, cont'd from p. 14

6. Competence is

{req uently irrelevo nf .

Most administrators are competent and committed to good govemment of the community. This is often at cross

purposes with what elected officials seek,

as good govemment does not necessarily purchase votes. Municipal organizations

that give stafftheir head tend to fare

better than those who do not. My first mayor said he hired people smarter than

him; he was the best mayor I had.

7. Orgonizotionol behoviour

is often based on insincerity.

Staffwant to be loved, but only as long as you're in charge. And if you don't love them, they'll want someone

else in charge.

A Different Kind of Teom

Motivational speakers often use some

variant of "the way you play your games

is the way you run yow life." I always thought this was pure bunk. Moreoveq teams in the workplace, where the fire

chiefcould care less about taxation soft-, are a species considerably different

than sports teams.

There are few sports in which all or

most of the team is playing at the same time and for extended periods of time. Soccer is one. Basketball is perhaps an- other. Hockey and baseball aren't; those

sports are based on plays. Teams in ten-

nis are never more than two, so that's more like a relationship. Teams in curl-

ing are never more than four, so that's more like a double date. Swimmers and runners, even in relays, are alone. Golf is

solitary. Try auto racing with a group at the wheel. The comparison of govemment to

sport therefore has some foundation. We

know the value ofexcellence in sports

lies in dedication to expertise and dis-

cipline, and in the inherent stimulus of

competition to excel. By analogy, the value of excellence in government lies

in dedication to expertise and

* with the inherent stimulus of open


debate to heighten service to the com-

munity. MW



OPEN DATA, cont'd from p. 30

5. Exclusion of liability - Prohibi-

tion against suing the city in connec- tion with the data sets or the use to

which they are put. 6. Liubility for not complying with terms of use - Recipient is to be liable for, and liable to, fully and monetarily indemnify the city, as well

as its agents for all breaches, as well

as paying for all legal expenses ofthe


7. Cuncellation for non-compli-

ance - Certain rights to the city to

cancel or suspend access to the data

sets in event of breach of terms of use

or unlawful use.

8. No endorsement - Recipient

is precluded from representing or

implying that the city has sponsored,

approved, or otherwise endorsed re-

production ofthe data sets.

9. No ussociqtion -Recipient may

not use any trademark or other em-

blem or logo ofthe city or any ofits

other references or means of promo-

tion without first obtaining the city's

prior written consent, nor imply any

sort of association or affiliation with

that city.

10. Governing law andjurisdic-

tion - As data sets are published

within the specified province, the terms are governed by the law of the

province where the city is located.


In summary, the "plain-Eng1ish"

terms of use and licence structure in

use for open data appears fairly con-

sistent throughout Canadian munici- palities and is far less complex and

more free of legalese than licensing

provisions typically found in commer-

cial software, data licences, and ICT contracts. It will be interesting to watch as

government becomes more open, data

in greater supply, and senior levels of

government garrer experience. Will the

enabling terms and licensing processes remain straightforward, or become shrouded in escalating levels ofsophis- tication? Only time will tell. MW