“It’s Bad Governance”

Councillor Tim Cartmell says Edmonton City Council needs to stop second-guessing its staff, and stop talking so much

Ward pihêsiwin Councillor Tim Cartmell believes the City of Edmonton is grinding to a halt, that it’s bogged down in red tape and reports and more reports and even more reports.

And he lays the blame at the feet of Council itself.

“A concern of mine is that this council seems to want to operate and manage the city, and not govern it,” he says. “Over the course of not quite a year, the motions moved and the amount of work generated for our administration has got them spending far more time writing reports than doing the actual work. They’re second-guessed around every corner, so now they’re gun-shy to do anything. So, you’re asking managers to go out and manage, but they don’t feel like they have a mandate. They don’t feel like they have support. I’m really struggling to have my colleagues on council acknowledge that you can’t, on the one hand, second-guess staff on almost every turn, and then, on the other hand, be frustrated that they don’t go out and forward-think and forward-manage and get ahead of things.”

Cartmell says Council is even going so far as to delay and overturn decisions made by previous city governments, and, well, spends too much time talking.

“This council spends far more time talking than reading reports,” he says.

“What a way to run a rodeo. And we’ll never get it all done, because, if 13 people are going to make every single management decision in a $3-billion corporation, what do you need the 13,000 staff for? It’s crazy.”

Cartmell says councillors received a damning report in the last month. It indicated that this group of councillors, in its first year since being elected, has spent about twice as much time in council and committee meetings as the previous group of councillors did under then-mayor Don Iveson in their first year after the 2017 election.

He believes the reason the debates have become so elongated is because councillors have become micromanagers. Eight of the 12 councillors elected in 2021 are new to chamber. It’s a rookie-laden council.

“A report comes in and, no matter what it says, it won’t be good enough,” he says. “And it will spawn three more motions for three more reports. And the work never gets done.”

When meetings run overtime, or matters get kicked back to administration for more work, staff have to hang on. It’s not just council doubling its own time, those hours are eaten away from staff.

“It’s tiresome for everyone,” says Cartmell. “And the burn rate on those meetings are in the thousands of dollars. All those people, sitting around, waiting their turn. It’s ridiculous.”

A concrete crusher may not seem like an item of overwhelming importance. But a motion last week from Councillor Erin Rutherford, which was approved by council by a narrow 7-5 margin, paused a planned ending to the City’s aggregate recycling program. Four years ago, the previous council decided to close the crusher and end this program, which pummels concrete into gravel. The decision, in Cartmell’s mind, was done and dusted. It was part of that council’s work to wade through what he called the “hot mess” that was the waste management department.

But then came Monday’s vote, and the closure is now put off.

“It was a case of, ‘We weren’t here to talk about it, so it didn’t happen,’” he said.

Mayor Amarjeet Sohi, Cartmell, Councillor Sarah Hamilton, Councillor Karen Principe and Councillor Jennifer Rice voted to go with administration’s recommendations and stay the course that was set four years ago. But it wasn’t enough.

“That’s nonsense. It’s bad governance,” says Cartmell.

He says going back and undoing work from years ago sets a precedent that it can happen in other areas, too — slowing down council even more.