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Who makes better city managers?

September 3rd, 2009 · 11 Comments

An interesting post from Kennedy Stewart analyzing which kind of person makes a better city bureaucrat, someone who rises through the ranks or someone brought in from outside. He comes down in favour of the former, saying people like Judy Rogers and Ken Dobell ultimately do a better job of carrying out council programs than those hired from outside the system. I expect to hear some debate about that!

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  • Not an Expert

    I think the KS piece accurately reflects what is now pervading City Hall. No one could deny Penny Ballem’s commitment to the cause celebs of the day. She is passionate, fierce, and extremely intelligent. However, her arrogance and condescending demeanor towards those that do not agree with her processes or agenda is an absolute buzz kill for senior staff who value a City Manager who demands excellence while at the same time demonstrates a commitment to absolutely go to the wall for them. Her fierceness at times is misguided and deeply resented by the organization. That said, without question, she is the manager you want in a room full of “greenhorns”. Penny Ballem is a seasoned task master that can most definitely push middle management, and the unionized workforce they oversee to do better, think more and get the job done.

    With regard to Ken Dobell and Judy Rogers, they are extraordinarily talented, committed and wise with both academic and street smarts. They brought a clarity to the role of City Manager that is presently sorely lacking. They know that to change the organization to do more and serve the public well, they need to administrate and lead simultaneously. They know instinctively when to corral, push back, guide and mentor without blinking an eye. Their weaknesses?…I think they trusted too easily and didn’t always triple check the facts presented to them. I think at times they surrounded themselves with people that were serving a personal agenda which made them vulnerable. Nevertheless, people, particularly staff, were willing to stand with them and face the music.

    The unfortunate consequence of the present “mercenary” management is, for those who have decided to stay on, “weathering” and “surviving” this administration is a more pervasive mentality than making it a successful one. This is where the public itself will suffer and pay the price.

  • Frothingham

    How does this square with the hiring of the New Mr Green!

  • grumbelschmoll

    The changes happening at City Hall are not just the types of changes we will have every three years from now on, there is a generational changing of the old guard that extends deep into the municipal service. The baby boomers are on their way out, and with it, the cosy web of relationships that has for so long masked the antiquity of City Hall’s way of doing things.

    Some things worked well, others were completely dysfunctional.

    Nothing wrong with cleaning the house for once.

    Stop prejudging every move, let them get on with the work.

  • Mary

    Judy Rogers did not come up through the ranks; she ws plucked from a seriously deteriorating City funded position and plopped into the only vacant managerial/similar pay position at the City, which happened to report to Dobell. The rest is sad history. She was somewhat feared, not at all respected (except to the degree that fear instills a certain kind of respect). Dobell was respected for his intelligence, but pitied by those who saw his judgement impaired by his weakness for certain dominatrix style women.

    There is no perfect leader, but good leadership recognizes that and encourages leadership in others. We have seen too little of that in the past 20 years.

  • Not Running for Mayor

    I have to come to Judy’s defense, she was in fact very well respected, maybe not by some of the unionized workers near the end thanks in large part to the strike, but by dept heads and people that worked with her on a daily basis she was both respected and admired.
    I will confirm that Penny is admired, the respect I’m sure will come with time.

  • Bill Lee

    As the the question posed “which kind of person makes a better city bureaucrat, someone who rises through the ranks or someone brought in from outside.”
    I would suggest someone from the upper unionized echelons, preferably having worked for several departments, perhaps also did a stint on labour relations where all the secrets of incompetence and hostile environments leak out, but only for five years, by which time they are co-opted by the squirearchy.

    Ballam should take her vacations with a shovel and the works crew. Or even the critical GVWWSD pipe crew.

    She has been a controlling manager too long in various forms. I wonder what her advice to ehealth in Ontario was.

  • T W

    I would be less concerned with the virtues/vices of outside hiring of senior staff and more concerned with the appraisal and oversight by our elected representatives who are elected to oversee the city.

    If there are issues with senior staff, my view is that much of the responsibity rests with elected officials, not staff themselves.

  • T W

    I would be less concerned with the virtues/vices of outside hiring of senior staff and more concerned with the appraisal and oversight by our elected representatives who are elected to oversee the city.

    If there are issues with senior staff, my view is that much of the responsibility rests with elected officials, not staff themselves.

  • Michael Phillips

    One issue I have with the Kennedy hypothesis is that at some point bureaucracies develop their own culture, character and even political orientation (although the latter is always fervently denied). If the objective is to use an approach “by which civil servants can be made to enact the public will”, it would be very difficult to do this using simple internal promotion/demotion if the bureaucracy itself is oriented in a way which veers toward previous methods, previous policies, previous political leadership, if the “public will” has changed.

    For 19 of the last 22 years, City Hall was run by the NPA and it’s only natural that over time employees who did not favour the general agenda would leave or be made to leave, those who did would stay, and those who thrived under it and got along with the rather static leadership cohort would be promoted quickly. Over this stretch of time, the bureaucracy had to have developed a character of its own which I would argue was marked both by a sense of entitlement to independence from council but otherwise a general orientation toward NPA styles of governing and toward the people behind the NPA itself.

    It is however safe to say that the public will has changed radically away from the NPA and is at this point rather contemptuous of previous NPA governing styles now that there is an alternative that…isn’t COPE.

    Evidence for the inherent conflict this poses can be seen in the guffaws Ms. Ballem apparently received when she responded to a question from senior management (at a large early meeting soon after her hiring) concerning the general direction they were to head in when she pointed them toward the Vision political platform.
    http://www.citycaucus.com/2008/12/city-halls-new-bible

    Even though I can imagine some people choking on their tongues when she said that, this is the definition of “civil servants being made to enact the public will”.

    Also just look at who attended and who didn’t attend the events held for departed senior staff earlier this year, culminating in the Judy Rogers send off. http://www.citycaucus.com/2009/04/judy-rogers-tribute-live-blog

    It’s obvious that the bureaucracy had over time taken on a particular character, but now the public will has changed. In this way it only makes sense that the City would do at least some significant talent-shopping from out of other City’s bureaucracies, organizations which may in some ways be more reflective of our city’s current priorities than even our own.

  • Save it for the Straight

    Ah, Kennedy Stewart. Our very own local academic expert on all things municipal, whose past insights have included that COPE would retain a majority because of their brand recognition in 05 and that Vision wouldnt get elected; who spent the last three years saying that Vision and COPE could never work together; that Al de Genova was going to win the mayoral nomination for Vision b/c Vision hadn’t done any organizing; and of course, that Gregor Robertson would win over 100,000 votes in the municipal election because of an agreement with COPE and Vision.

    If Kennedy Stewart thinks that Penny Ballem and Sadhu Johnston shouldn’t be at City Hall, I feel better knowing they are.

  • Michael Phillips

    “If there’s one thing that federal Liberals can do, it is win nominations,” Stewart said. “I bet you’ll see De Genova sign up over 2,000 people over the next few months. Nobody will be able to match that.”

    http://www.straight.com/article-132087/crowded-mayoral-race-creates-room-for-cope

    ahem…