The Auditor General for Local Government has finally released the long anticipated “Learnings From Local Government Capital Procurement Projects and Capital Management Programs – District of Sechelt”.
My first inclination, as a Councillor, was to be very relieved: we can now talk openly about the issues we found at the District since taking office last December.
My second inclination, as a resident and citizen, was to be concerned about the potential for damage to the fabric of our community, as a result of the findings.
After all, our community has been through trying times, as exemplified by the divisive and passionate elections held in November 2014.
Accusations of wrongdoing and intrigue have become commonplace in our town, alongside aggressive mistrust of those in positions of influence: be it in businesses, non-profits, governments, or community associations.
With this in mind, I’m beginning with a caveat for my comments.
Firstly, Public sector management, and local government administration is a very difficult endeavour.
Furthermore, it is a specialised skill, engaged by dedicated professionals that build a lifetime of experience in best practices.
Every one of us has done a wrong thing from time to time. It’s a part of life: we do not always have the right information, or the appropriate perspective to respond accordingly to our situation.
Some of us do the wrong thing, for long periods of time. Our world view can prevent us from learning from the cues, as we continue down an inappropriate path despite the warnings.
I have made many mistakes in life, and have had the great fortune to be forgiven for my inappropriate actions, and given the opportunity to learn from them.
If I had become a Mayor, without any previous Council experience, or public sector background, I can see how I could have made large mistakes.
This report is all about the ‘learnings’ to me, and that’s my focus in its release, not on any wrongdoings of the past.
I know much comment will flow from the content of the report, and we need to be open to that discussion, wherever it takes us.
However, in the wake of this release, I feel strongly that we have an opportunity to suspend our prejudices, and understand a better path forward for our community.
The report itself has been received by critics as a scathing deconstruction of the administration of Mayor John Henderson and his supporting Council, that most recently held office from 2011-2014.
The report focuses on two major projects, as seen through the eyes of capital procurement and public sector best practices: The Sechelt Water Resource Center and the paving of Heritage/Sandpiper Road.
The report is required reading for anyone hoping to have an objective view, of either the specific circumstances contained in the report, or extrapolations to be applied to other departments and projects within District of Sechelt administration over the past few years.
The report is meant to provide an independent voice that we can use to check our own opinions against and improve our understanding.
Additionally, it provides the opinion of our peers at a Provincial level, and compares our administration to widely accepted best practices around the Province.
My biggest ‘learning’ from the report is a profound respect for the dedicated professionals that keep our cities operating across the country, and very often for less pay than equivalent positions in the private sector.
First and foremost, we need to respect these people, and we need to listen to their voice in discussions with Council and community. They have specialised skills and provide necessary insight for our towns to function.
Additionally, I’ve learned that public sectors can be extremely efficient administrators when given the appropriate management tools and Council oversight.
Governments are not like businesses in many ways. As we engage in any structural reforms of government, we need to understand the ‘why’, so we can adequately assess where the boundary of good judgment is.
Lastly, as a Councillor, I’ve learned to value the input from community in a different way. The community, as a collective, was aware of the risks identified in the report.
I will be constantly re-checking my own opinions to confirm what the community is telling me, as by some innate wisdom, it seems to know best.