Role of Staff in Municipal Government

There was recently a radio program hosted by a professor on “the proper balance in municipal government”

During his career the professor had worked on both sides: first as a staff member – where he referred to the office of the elected official as “the dark side” – and then as an elected member of Council where he could see the other reality.

He described the balance required for good local government and it is a balance that is difficult to achieve.

The Councillor is the representative of the public or as he calls it, “the public’s voice”.

The Councillor relies on the staff to bring forth the facts on the issues. These staff inputs of facts to the Councillor must be both the positives and negatives and should be given without prejudice – they are just a “statement of facts” and are “unbiased” A staff member’s report should never support any particular agenda.

Of course, experienced staff employees can warn of possible consequences from similar projects in the past that the elected official may not be aware of.

The staff member must never be a political voice. For staff to have their own agenda is interference with the democratic process and would colour their input.

One of the councillor’s jobs is to ensure that these issues, “concerning the project” are passed on to the public so the public can be educated, engaged and informed. Educating the public is crucial and is fundamental to the democratic process.

Since the first role of a Councillor, according to the Ontario Municipal Act (Sect 224) is “to represent the public” there should remain a very business-like relationship between the Councillor and staff department heads.