Toronto, May 5, 2017 – Local governments function best when they have a council that represents the diverse elements in society and promotes open and deliberative decision-making, supported by a public service that values professionalism and rational decision-making. The often hidden, but very important, role of the city manager and the relationship between elected officials and the public service is a key determinant of the success of any municipality.

The latest IMFG paper in the series on local governance in Canada demystifies the changing dynamic of how decisions are made at city halls across the country. It looks at how the relationship between elected officials and the public service has changed over time and what role the city manager or chief administrative officer plays in maintaining good council-staff relations.

“To promote good relationships, staff must respect democracy, and council members must respect professional management and professional opinion,” write authors Michael Fenn and David Siegel. “The chief administrative officer provides a link between these two cultures – a translator between two groups speaking different languages.”

The paper presents practical principles for maintaining good council-staff relations, and warns of the clouds on the horizon that could threaten the city manager/chief administrative officer model of local governance, which is in place in virtually every municipality in Ontario and across Canada.

Read the full paper here.

About the Authors

Michael Fenn was an Ontario Deputy Minister under three Premiers, after several decades in Ontario local government, including as city manager in Burlington, and chief administrative officer in Hamilton. The founding CEO of both transportation authority Metrolinx and regional health authority Mississauga Halton LHIN, he now writes and consults on municipal and infrastructure issues.

David Siegel is the interim Dean of the Faculty of Education and Professor of Political Science at Brock University. His most recent book is Leaders in the Shadows: The Leadership Qualities of Municipal Chief Administrative Officers. He has an M.A. in Public Administration from Carleton and a Ph.D. in Political Science from the University of Toronto. He is also a Chartered Professional Accountant. 

About the Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance (IMFG)

The Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance is a research hub and think tank that focuses on the fiscal and governance challenges facing large cities and city-regions. It is located within the University of Toronto’s Munk School of Global Affairs.

For more information, please contact:
Selena Zhang | Manager, Programs and Research
Institute on Municipal Finance and Governance, University of Toronto | 416-978-2168 

Other Recent Publications

Climate Change, Floods, and Municipal Risk Sharing in Canada
IMFG Paper No. 30, by Daniel Henstra and Jason Thistlethwaite

Accountability Officers and Integrity in Canadian Municipal Government
IMFG Perspectives No. 17, by Andrew Sancton 

Reducing Urban Greenhouse Gas Emissions: Effective Steering Strategies for City Governments
IMFG Perspectives No. 16, by Sara Hughes

New Tax Sources for Canada’s Largest Cities: What Are the Options?
IMFG Perspectives No. 15, by Harry Kitchen and Enid Slack

Good Governance at the Local Level: Meaning and Measurement
IMFG Paper No. 26, by Zack Taylor