It’s time to grade the performance of Staff and Council for the last four years. With an election next month it seems appropriate to review how Council and and Staff have performed in this term of Council.

I can hear the objections already as I type these words. “What gives you the right to pass judgment on Staff and Council?” Well, it’s a dirty job and someone has to do it. It’s sort of like being a sports writer for the Toronto Star or the Globe and Mail. You can report on what you saw or you can dig a little deeper into the issues and the circumstances to provide some type of feedback. Not that it has done any good with the Maple Leafs, but I’m an optimist.

So what makes me think I’m up to the job? Well I’m the only one willing to do the work and take the criticism that is sure to follow. One of my approaches to life is that you lead, follow or get out of the way. I guess I prefer to lead from a non-elected and non-paid position.

I believe I have the perspective and experience to grade the performance of Council and Staff. Over the last three and a half years I have attended just about every open meeting of Council, public input session and budget discussion. And it’s important to attend council meetings in person and not catch it on cable. Not all council meetings are broadcast, certainly not the budget meetings. It’s like being a sportswriter or any reporter, you can’t rely just on what you see on the ‘boob tube’ or ‘interweb’. You need to see it live and you need to talk to the ‘players’ before and after the game, or in this case the meeting.

One of my paid jobs is to work with companies as a consultant to take a look at their operations and see where there are opportunities to improve performance or correct challenges. In some cases I’m hired to help them implement the changes they feel are necessary. I’ve come to understand that my clients don’t accept all of my recommendations and I don’t take it personally; it’s their business after all. In the same sense my grading of Staff and Council is offered as input that can be embraced or rejected.

Let’s remember that this is a ‘rookie’ Staff and Council. Four members of Council (4/7) were in their first terms of office, although the Mayor had previously served several terms as a Councillor. And there has been considerable Senior Staff change over the past four years, largely a result of retirement. This has created another layer of challenge for Staff and Council as all of the new Staff hires have come from other municipalities. There has been a steep learning curve for Staff and Council that surely has impacted performance at least a little.

One last thought before getting to the grades. It’s pretty easy to be critical of people if you don’t have to look them in the face from time-to-time and you don’t take the time to speak with them. We are all imperfect and just because I don’t agree with you on one point doesn’t mean I won’t agree with you on a dozen other issues. We should look more closely at where we agree rather where we disagree. But some people just like to walk around mad at everyone and not make the effort to communicate and understand. That doesn’t require the courage to be willing to change your opinion.

Okay lets get started with the grades. This will be stretched over a few posts to make it easier to digest. You’ll get he hang of the grading and analysis. There is no grading ‘on a curve’.

Infrastructure – A

Staff and Council have done a great job of investing time and taxpayers’ money on the Town’s infrastructure (pipes, roads, fire equipment, buildings, etc.). It’s pretty easy to ignore these issues and let things deteriorate to the point services are compromised and remedial work is more expensive than replacement. Too many other communities are falling so far behind in this area they are hoping that the Province will bail them out in the future. But even if the Province provides the funds these communities will still need the people and expertise to implement the infrastructure upgrades. Not very easy. I’m glad we are ahead of the curve although we still have issues as noted with recent sewer challenges.

Economic Development – C

The good news is that we have lots of private investment in Parry Sound directed to new facilities and buildings. The bad news is that most of it seems directed to businesses or public projects providing services to the Town and surrounding communities; another pharmacy, a new school, etc. The only significant economic development activity by Staff and Council seems focused on selling Town property at sub-market prices to support the construction of semi-subsidized and senior housing. These are important initiatives but seem to be the extent of our investments in time, money and effort. Bit by bit we are becoming “Elliott Lake South”, a slightly more expensive retirement friendly community with closer access to Southern Ontario (if you have a car). The Town has taken almost no interest in supporting the tourism-based economy of Parry Sound and surrounding areas. We need to realize that we will never, I repeat never, become an industrial based local economy. To support an industrial economy we need land we don’t have, and we will need to transport in raw materials and then transport final products out to the markets of Southern Ontario or the USA. Better to build a plant in rural Southern Ontario and save the transport costs. Or build the plant in Mexico and save on salaries and benefits. Parry Sound once had an industrial based economy, a century ago before we exhausted the forests. It’s time to move on and work with the reality of our situation. If that’s becoming a retirement centre with a service based economy (tourism, IT, entertainment, call centres, …) much like what you have in Florida or Arizona, so be it. But let’s do a better job of making Parry Sound stand out sufficiently to attract the money and investment that can support good jobs. Seniors have the money and are willing to spend it for quality services. Noisy trains and terrible, actually no, transportation options to reach Southern Ontario surely don’t help our positioning.

Enough for Part 1. You have a flavour of what’s to follow.

Getting Cleaned Up for the Show (Parry Sound, a Touch of Colour)