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BY-ELECTION – Leslie Lax: Are core services reviews a cure or a curse?

(Image: Regional District of Nanaimo)

Candidates in the Sept. 30 Kamloops civic by-election are invited to make submissions to ArmchairMayor.ca on their platforms, biographical information, contact information or specific issues. Please keep them to 550 words or less. The following is from candidate for council Leslie Lax:

Core services reviews have become a common activity for many municipalities.  Local governments eager to find costs savings have, at great cost to the taxpayer, hired accounting firms to perform top-down reviews of municipal services and budgets with the explicit intent of slashing budgets and services.  It is no wonder that the outcome of these exercises see budgets cut, staff fired and services reduced.

Leslie Lax.

This is not what we need in Kamloops.  What we need is thoughtful review of current operations and services that fully engages staff, management, elected officials, ratepayers and other stakeholders.

In doing this, we could learn from the positive experience of the Regional District of Nanaimo (RDN).  As Paul Thorkelsson, then CAO of the RDN wrote, “The task I set for myself … was to develop a review process that, regardless of its outcomes or recommendations, would have a positive impact on the organization.”  This so very different from a core services review that “casts a shadow or ‘chill’ over an organization like nothing else.”

The operational and efficiency review process can take longer than the more simplistic core services review and it is more complex, but therein lies its true benefit.

First, a professional survey firm was hired to assess community perceptions of the RDN including satisfaction with services, value for taxes and quality of life.  The results were shared with departmental review teams to help inform their work.

Then, under the leadership of the CAO, along with the direct participation of the CUPE President, departmental teams comprising management and CUPE staff reviewed key elements in relation to department activities.  These included:

  • Alignment – What are industry standards, Should we be doing the work? Is our work aligned with the Board Strategic Plan?
  • Finance and budgeting – Is the budget reflective of the work performed? Are we measuring the right things?
  • Organizational structure – Are there the right staff for the activities? Do we have enough or too many staff?  Is there the right range of supervision?
  • Process improvements and efficiencies – Can we improve efficiencies through partnerships with other departments? Will technology help?  Are we meeting expectations?
  • Staff morale – Do employees understand their roles and responsibilities? Do they feel supported?  Do they work safely?  Is sick time an area of concern?

As Thorkelsson notes, “There is remarkable capacity and understanding of operations within the organization that can be leveraged through the appropriate collaborative process to significantly benefit the organization.  Externally ‘driven’ reviews typically cannot benefit from this and as a result often cannot deliver on the claims or intents of the process.”

In other words, external consultants often simply create the plan without appropriate engagement and then walk away.  There is no buy-in from staff and no reality check as to whether their recommendations can even be implemented.

The inclusive and transparent process undertaken by the NRD yielded in excess of $1 million in direct savings for the organization with an additional $250,000 in potential avoided costs out of a budget of approximately $120 million.  All this without any job losses.

Other benefits of this process include staff feeling appreciation for being acknowledged and heard.  There is staff willingness and buy-in to implementing the changes and there are changing management practices that continue the engagement established with their teams.

These are all positive outcomes and place the organization on a solid footing to continue serving residents efficiently into the future.

I’m confident we can achieve those same benefits in Kamloops.

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About Mel Rothenburger (5003 Articles)
ArmchairMayor.ca is a forum about Kamloops and the world. It has more than one million views. Mel Rothenburger is the former Editor of The Daily News in Kamloops, B.C. (retiring in 2012), and past mayor of Kamloops (1999-2005). At ArmchairMayor.ca he is the publisher, editor, news editor, city editor, reporter, webmaster, and just about anything else you can think of. He is grateful for the contributions of several local columnists. This blog doesn't require a subscription but gratefully accepts donations to help defray costs.

2 Comments on BY-ELECTION – Leslie Lax: Are core services reviews a cure or a curse?

  1. rcktrnr097gmailcom // September 22, 2017 at 8:26 PM // Reply

    Collaborative approaches usually work better than top down dictates.

  2. I believe something along the lines you described Mr. Lax has been undertaken already in Kamloops.
    The serious issues lay somewhere else…

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