Time for mayor to go from Hal­i­fax cheer­leader to game changer

StarMetro Halifax - - FRONT PAGE - Tris­tan Cleve­land,

“This is Hal­i­fax’s time, time for big ideas and de­ci­sive moves,” Mayor Sav­age said at his lat­est State of the Mu­nic­i­pal­ity ad­dress. If that’s true, it’s a prob­lem that city hall is be­com­ing less and less ca­pa­ble of those de­ci­sive moves.

Hal­i­fax has over 150 staff re­ports pend­ing, a quar­ter of which are over­due, and things are get­ting slower. On Oct. 17, coun­cil had one of the short­est meet­ings in mem­ory for lack of re­ports.

Coun­cil is not al­lowed to act on is­sues with­out a staff re­port, so it’s bad news that it has taken over five years to get back on some top­ics, like im­proved rules for mo­bile homes. We have coun­cil­lors who are smart, pro­gres­sive, and mo­ti­vated, but a lot of that po­ten­tial will be lost if these de­lays get worse.

The In­te­grated Mo­bil­ity Plan, Green Net­work Plan, and the Cen­tre Plan, are all at least a sea­son be­hind sched­ule. Pub­lic con­sul­ta­tions for the Down­town Dartmouth Plan were held four years ago and the pub­lic has heard noth­ing since. Mean­while, Spry­field is mak­ing do with a plan from 1978, and work on a re­place­ment hasn’t even started.

It’s ex­cit­ing our pop­u­la­tion growth rate last year out­paced Mon­treal, Ot­tawa, Toronto and Van­cou­ver. But with ev­ery year that out­dated rules pre­vent de­vel­op­ment in com­mu­ni­ties that want it, the eco­nomic waste is enor­mous. So what’s go­ing on? Last week HRM’S plan­ning de­part­ment missed dead­lines to send me com­ment (de­lay­ing this col­umn), but fi­nally sent me this: “As with any ma­jor projects, time­lines are sub­ject to change.” Thanks.

Oth­ers tell me our CAO, Jac­ques Dubé, is tak­ing too long to process staff re­ports, so other man­agers are sit­ting on their hands wait­ing for things to go to coun­cil. Staff morale is low, with many mo­ti­vated and tal­ented peo­ple feel­ing like they can’t get things done.

And just when the Cen­tre Plan and In­te­grated Mo­bil­ity Plan were near­ing the fin­ish line, the CAO fired our chief plan­ner, Bob Bjerke, cre­at­ing chaos. Our Chief of Fi­nance, Amanda White­wood, mean­while, has also taken a leave of ab­sence to help the IWK. That she filed a com­plaint against the CAO in Fe­bru­ary for a ha­rass­ing email is per­haps not a co­in­ci­dence.

Other prob­lems pre­date the CAO. Hal­i­fax le­gal staff see their job as avoid­ing law­suits and they reg­u­larly veto good ideas, as if they have au­thor­ity over ev­ery other de­part­ment. They should see their job as a sup­port role, to help fig­ure out le­gal means to achieve goals, and to go to court to de­fend those goals when nec­es­sary.

It’s time for Mayor Sav­age to go down to city hall, make a few “de­ci­sive moves,” and clear up the log­jam.

The mayor should ar­tic­u­late ex­actly what he wants to see ac­com­plished in the next six months by the CAO, and let him know his job de­pends it. And he should ex­plain to le­gal staff what their job re­ally is.

And, he should cham­pion the projects of the city’s most mo­ti­vated em­ploy­ees, to make peo­ple feel like they work for a city where they can make ex­cit­ing ideas hap­pen.

Mayor Sav­age is a great cheer­leader for Hal­i­fax, but that’s no longer what we need. What we need is some­one will­ing to lay down hard de­mands and re­store con­fi­dence Hal­i­fax can progress.

Mayor Sav­age is a great cheer­leader for Hal­i­fax, but that’s no longer what we need.

Metro file

Hal­i­fax Mayor Mike Sav­age.

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