Tristan Cleveland: Mayor needs to take action over stasis at City Hall
It's time for Mayor Savage to make a few “decisive moves” to break up the current log jam of delayed plans and reports.
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“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 a council 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 due 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 But with every year that outdated rules prevent development in communities that want it, the economic waste is enormous.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 log jam.
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 move.