Mayor rebukes city councillor for ‘lack of trust in staff’

Councillor McLaren holds up a copy of the final 2015 Strategic Planning report. McLaren alleged that staff had changed the wording of the document and printed the final version before it had been approved by the previous council.

Kingston Mayor Bryan Paterson took a moment to rebuke Councillor Jeff McLaren for his apparent lack of trust in city staff at the most recent meeting of Kingston City Council.

The incident occurred about halfway through the city council meeting on the evening of Tuesday, Jan. 8, 2019. Council had been deep in deliberations over several amendments requested by McLaren on a motion regarding Report 7, Item 4: Council’s strategic planning and priorities setting process.

The reprimand came as McLaren moved again to amend the report with several items which Paterson and other councillors characterized as either redundant or overly restricting. By that point, McLaren had already parlayed the usual five-minute speaking limit into nearly an hour and a half through a series of amendment requests.

McLaren expressed particular concern that staff would change the wording in the official Strategic Planning document, sometime after the planning process. As he held up a copy of the previous council’s finalized document, McLaren claimed that this had happened, at great cost to the municipality, in 2015.

“It was already printed, before it came to council for approval. How many of these were printed before it was approved?” he asked. The mayor and several veteran councilors pushed back on that assertion.

“You are implying a motive to staff that is, quite frankly, unprofessional. I would ask you to please refrain from implying that staff did something that staff was not supposed to,” said Paterson, asserting that the final 2015 document had been approved by council and no changes to the wording had been made by staff.

Councillors Ryan Boehme and Jim Neill, both of whom were on council at the time, concurred that no changes had been made to the wording in the document by staff.

In a followup with Kingstonist, city staff advised that the finalized document in question had in fact been printed in-house in an attempt to save money, with 1500 copies made at a total cost of $3500.

Councillors were similarly concerned with McLaren’s request that the facilitator for council’s strategic planning meeting not develop any priorities, nor design the planning session, establish an agenda for the meeting, or roll up results from the session without council being present.

Boehme said he felt the proposed amendment was so restrictive that it would not allow the facilitator to do her job. Councillor Wayne Hill, who said he’d been a part of many facilitator-led sessions in his former roles in education and administration, said that facilitators are important to remove bias. Paterson asserted that rather than improve the process, McLaren’s proposed amendment would hinder it and tie the facilitator’s hands. Neill found the wording of the amendment confusing and, recalling his past experience on council, said the facilitator was neutral and properly captured councillors’ intent. Councillors Gary Oosterhof, Bridgette Doherty and Robert Kiley echoed the sentiments of the other councilors and the mayor by expressing their trust in staff. and that they would not support the amendment.

“I’m trying to choose my words carefully, but this is bordering on paranoia,” said Paterson as he digested McLaren’s multiple amendment requests.

Commissioner Lanie Hurdle expressed a similar sentiment. “I would suggest that the underlying issue coming up tonight is a lack of trust,” she said. “It’s quite clear that there is a significant lack of trust in staff.”

McLaren declared that wasn’t the case. “Clearly I gave the wrong impression,” he said. “My intention was just to bring things out of the shadows and into the light.”

“This isn’t about lack of trust, it’s about oversight, it’s about governance,” he continued, emphasizing that he does trust staff, “but it’s our job to spot-check, to act as if we do not trust.”

After lengthy deliberation, nearly all of McLaren’s requested amendments were ultimately rejected by council. His request for an amendment to include the word “public” in the final sentence, which subsequently read “and that council receive a public copy of their compilation in advance of the sessions,” passed.

The report, together with previously approved amendments requested by Paterson and Deputy Mayor Peter Stroud, then passed unanimously.

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