The CAO runs the town. The day-to-day ‘buck stops here’ decisions go with the position. It is the position where the corporate executive power comes into one pair of hands.
The Council sets policy, passes laws, makes political decisions and sets political courses for various aspects of the corporate and community entity called The City of Grand Forks.
The respective positions are analogues to the corporate roles of the CEO and the Board.
The Council has One Employee, the CAO which apparently is the only person working for the City that council members have any direct power over. All the other employees are employees of the City and their ultimate boss / supervisor is the CAO.
In order to fulfill their roles of making policy, passing laws and setting political course the Council members rely on their own personal experiences, knowledge and training … but in most matters related to regulations, laws, and the mechanics / business of city operations the council relies on, depends on staff assistance. It has to work that way because Staff are trained and experienced people who work in these areas but the primary way a person becomes a Council member is by winning a popularity contest. It is beneficial if they have experience in government but it is Not mandatory. Employees get hired on experience and merit but council do not get elected on either (though it helps). (How else do people with no experience whatsoever in government get elected to top positions?)
This means that in many, likely most, situations where Staff and Council communicate and work together it is Staff who are the brightest and most capable minds in the room. Even bright councilors depend on staff for information and interpretation of things they know next to nothing about.
This is how city hall works. – It’s also how it malfunctions.
It sets up a system where a combination of a strong smart CAO and an ineffective council can result in situations that rankle voters and taxpayers.
Decisions made by the CAO will tend to reflect a business first attitude because the CAO’s job requires a business centric attitude. Council is the human part of the equation and social, community, ethical ideas, motives and initiatives are their responsibility. If they, council, are ineffective in that role then the things the City does will reflect that: people will perceive those as lacking humanity and a community vision. With an unbalanced apparatus how could they be thinking otherwise?
If Council ignores Staff input and makes short term pleasures more important than long term responsibilities (or personal agendas) the policy of the day then eventually somebody down the road will have to start making tough and painful decisions. And even though a Council may have to set a new policy direction Staff will have to execute it.
These are extremes and the real world is many situations that fall somewhere between them.
But an inexperienced council, a combative council, a council at opposition to staff is an ineffective council and that does not lead to a properly functioning city until they get their house in order.
The current regime in City Hall began with all those problems as well as having a temporary caretaker CAO. And it suffered for it. We all did. That also goes for those taxpayers not paying attention or taking a side.
How is that?
An analogy: If the City were a car then our tax dollars are the Gas. A properly functioning car gets good gas mileage; meaning more city work gets done for the tax dollars spent. In the early part of this year our City wasn’t getting very good mileage. It has improved albeit slowly and not to the level of satisfaction many would like to see.
The current council is down one member and waiting to hear the fate of another. You could say they’re distracted. And depending on the dynamic mix of the ‘new’ council things might get better. They might … but then again they might not.
Who is to blame for all of this?
Well all this comes back to the lap of the voters. You and me.
We elected this council. And those that came before.
They chose policies, and they chose CAOs, and we have come to the place we are in now.
If the voters choose to not learn how it all works, if they pay no attention to how it is working (or not) then the chances are good they will react emotionally, in ignorance, to situations that others tell them about. Meaning on second hand, filtered and likely biased information. And their ignorance and biases will mean it will be likely they will get it wrong.
That is when they will vote in people who Don’t Fit for reasons that Don’t Work. How else do you think candidates that run on platforms that scream “I don’t know how it works!” get elected?
Put simply: Elect Bozo the Clown and you get a Circus. Elect Revolutionaries and you get a Fight.
That might provide for entertaining spectacle BUT in the long run it’s playing with our futures …
So when you bemoan the current situation and want to get upset with someone please start by looking in the mirror and making your comments there. And follow that up by paying attention to council directly instead of relying on third parties with their own agendas, biases and failures to get it. We’ll all benefit from it in the long run.