ARMCHAIR ARCHIVES – It’s not the politicians who run the governments
The following column was published in The Kamloops Daily News on Jan. 7, 1983.
THERE’S A MISTAKEN IMPRESSION among many members of the general public that Kamloops is run by politicians.
Ivan Jakic knows better. They know that the people we elect have blessed little to say about either the policies that supposedly reflect the wishes of the taxpayers or the way in which their money is spent.
The place is run by bureaucrats, administrators who have become more adept politicians than the amateurs we elect ever dreamed of being. They battle in the back rooms over our dollars, they make decisions on bylaws and regulations before they ever get to the board rooms and council chambers… they are the policy makers.
When our elected representatives are doing their job, being outspoken watchdogs independent of influence from the civil servants, unafraid to remind them they are the public’s employees and not its bosses, good administrators are careful to appear neutral. They put the information, however selective, before the boards and councils and confine their comments to the technical and practical ramifications of that information.
Buy, if they’re allowed, administrators will assume a more blatantly opinionated role. That’s what’s been going on in Kamloops lately. Our administrators brazenly participate in political discussions even to the point of chastising politicians if the latter dare to question or disagree.
Take city administrator Grayden Hayward, for example. He’s renowned as being one of the nation’s most topnotch administrators. God, how we know it. City council reminds us of it often enough.
And they’re right. But, aside from his administrative capabilities, Hayward shines brightly because he’s a star among the bit players.
He rules over Council more by royal bearing (how can you question somebody who knows so much?) than by direct intervention, but when Council needs directing, well, he hops in the driver’s seat.
A few weeks ago, poor Kenna Cartwright, who has often run afoul of Hayward, argued in a council meeting that sewage system upgrading should remain a priority item in seeking funds from the Province. Hayward argued against it, saying Council should withdraw its application for $2.5 million for design work on the sewage lagoon upgrading project and concentrate on funding requests that would more likely be approved.
Council voted the way Hayward wanted them to vote.
A week later, Hayward changed his mind, deciding that the Council should keep the sewage upgrading on its priority list. So, Council switched too, voting with Hayward’s change of heart.
Where a fellow alderman couldn’t persuade them, councillors were easily persuaded by their administrator.
An even more interesting spectacle occurred one weekend in December as a local radio station blared, newscast after newscast, economic development officer Syd Spargo’s determination that his department’s budget wasn’t going to be cut.
Just whatinhell a City employee was doing publicly lobbying for budget money one must wonder and either Spargo or somebody else at City Hall must have wondered too, because when other media contacted him Monday morning he suddenly had nothing to say.
Meanwhile, up at the school board office, superintendent Ron Lyon and secretary treasurer Al McLeod have everything nicely in hand. Lyon is so much in control that he, not the trustees or even board chairman, is recognized as the Numero Uno in the district.
Lyon, in fact, is asked to (and does) represent the school district at official functions more often that the school board chairman. Even at such political occasions as school openings, Lyon is given at least equal status to the board representative. At the annual honors banquet, one of the district’s most prestigious educational events, Lyon makes the speech… the board chairman gets to help him hand out certificates.
At the board’s inaugural meeting, at which time it elects its chairman and vice chairman, and trustees are sworn in, four speeches are made. The new chairman makes one. The judge, the superintendent and the secretary-treasurer make the others, telling the trustees how they should do their job for the coming year.
And Lyon makes the news. When local teachers went on a work-to-rule campaign last fall, he publicly and very strongly criticized the move as “inappropriate.” What was inappropriate was the district’s chief educator rendering political opinions on a political action.
The power of administrators is partly a function of their unavoidable control of budget. A local level politician spends a few hours reviewing as critically as possible, the annual budget. Administrators work with it all year long. They create it, develop it, nurse it. It’s their job.
The speeches of board or council finance chairmen are more truly the parroting of administration’s wishes.
The greatest impact a board or council can have on a budget is to set limits on it. That almost always means a directive to administration to “bring back” a document that reflects, say, a five percent budget decrease.
It’s still administration who makes the major decisions on where the available money is going to be spent.
Money control is a powerful weapon, one that small town politicians, given the nature of their role, will have trouble ever getting.
But that doesn’t make them helpless. That doesn’t stop them from taking charge on a broad policy basis, and of telling administration what to do rather than being told by administration what they should do.
Too many local politicians are afraid of administrators, afraid of their own ignorance and of the latter’s knowledge. And administrators, used to having their way, sometimes accept direction only reluctantly. Ron Lyon, for example, gets visibly upset when the board dares to vote against something he strongly recommends. And he tells trustees off, not always with justification.
That’s not the way it should be. The politicians should be bosses, not the bossed.
Ivan Jakic, by the way, knows that because he took the trouble to find out during the last municipal election, and says that if he’s ever elected to Kamloops Council, he’ll quit the day he finds he’s been sucked into defending administration’s domination of policy instead of watchdogging it.
And Bob Saucier knows it because he was on Council several years ago when the aldermen were in charge. In his short time back, he’s found a totally different atmosphere in the proceedings of Council.
Politicians have to take charge, not be administration’s apologists. Life, especially political life, is too short to let the wrong people run the show.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops, alternate TNRD director and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a recipient of the Jack Webster Foundation Lifetime Achievement Award. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Some practical applications to what has been happening since the election last fall.
What is playing out with the new Mayor has some similarities to a different story. Some 2,000 years ago, a man became extremely popular to the people but he posed a threat to the establishment.
One of his closest followers betrayed him and delivered him to the Sanhedrin for a mere 30 pieces of silver.
Could it be that the 21st century Sanhedrin is already in place? Who will betray him and at what price?
Imagine that…1983. Fast forward to 2020++ and it still holds true. And despite many calls made directly to many who held or do hold office (past and present councillors) they refuse to acknowledged their ineptitude, lack of knowledge and ignorance and ultimately their feebleness holding their own against administrators. There is no excuse for any of that in my opinion.