With the elections behind us, it’s time to move on to the REALLY important personnel issue … choosing a replacement for Murray Gilbertson as Hastings District CEO.

This is a hugely important and early piece of public business, and I stress, public business.

Yes, we all know … the Council makes policy, and the CEO merely implements it. Yeah right!

Here’s what the CEO really does …

  • Hires and holds accountable the entire District Council staff, and determines the degree of their insulation (or not) from Councillors and the public.
  • Sets, both by personal example (and values) and formal staff performance expectations, the “culture” of the Council staff — are they held to high professional and ethical standards, do they treat the public as their ultimate customer or as a nuisance, are they encouraged to find solutions creatively and flexibly or to “follow the rules” blindly?
  • Determines what information is developed and reaches Councillors, and how issues are framed for both informal and formal deliberation — from dog leash policy to major plan and budget changes to strategic infrastructure and economic development investments.
  • Makes heaps of daily decisions that determine the quality of life throughout the district … and to think that these decisions have no political content or considerations attached is ludicrous.
  • Manages your ratepayer money on a day-to-day basis.

The selection of CEO is so important that the process begs for some form of public participation.

Sure, the Council must make the hire. But the rest of us deserve a voice in the process. We live with the consequences and we do pay the salary after all.

Why consult with the public on such mundane issues as dog leashes and speed limits, and then treat the crucial CEO decision as if the public has no stake in the outcome?

Merely by including the public in the process the mayor and Council would be sending a critical message to prospective candidates. What message? That ultimately the CEO is serving the public, is expected to pay some attention to it, and must actively work to earn its respect.

What form might public involvement in the selection process take?

Perhaps it’s as simple as an open hearing where individuals and citizen groups talk to the Council about the qualities or style of “doing business” they would like to see in their CEO.

Or maybe — more meaningfully — two or three “finalists” are asked to make presentations and take questions from a public audience. How they handled themselves in such a setting would speak volumes about the governing culture we might expect from different individuals.

Is this asking too much of mere candidates for the job? Guess what … any candidate who thinks such public scrutiny is inappropriate is not the right person for the job!


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