Special Report: Cycling

Transportation Staff Thrown Under Bus for Doing their Jobs

It is well-known that the City has a problem with staff morale and, given this episode, it is easy to see why.

By Nicholas Kevlahan
Published April 25, 2016

I am writing to express my shock and extreme disappointment at the way City staff are being treated in public comments by Ward 8 Councillor Terry Whitehead.

When the Hamilton Spectator reported that the City had been one of only 37 successful applications out of 150 for Provincial bicycle infrastructure money, I was delighted and pleased that we would be getting $295,000 of Provincial money to build a project that Council had approved as a priority in 2009.

I was impressed at the initiative of staff to pro-actively seek Provincial funding on a short deadline. This is a good news story for cyclists, for Hamilton taxpayers and for staff!

I was shocked and appalled to learn that, instead of congratulating staff for their initiative and expertise in selecting a Council priority bike lane that won funding against stiff competition, Councillor Whitehead publicly accused staff of inappropriate behaviour, underhandedness and favouritism.

Councillor Whitehead continued his smear campaign against City staff on social media for the next few days.

What's worse, no one at City Hall is publicly defending staff's integrity and expertise in selecting an appropriate project for the grant competition.

Note that the grant does not commit the City to any spending: Council can still decide not to contribute the matching 50 percent - but the fact that there is an almost $1 million annual cycling budget means that funding should not be an issue since this project was already identified as a priority.

It is well-known that the City has a problem with staff morale and, given this episode, it is easy to see why.

Even winning $295,000 of external funding for a priority Council approved project (as listed in Appendix A of the Cycling Master Plan) is not enough to protect them from a Councillor ready to play wedge politics!

Violates Council Code of Conduct, Corporate Pillars

It should be obvious that this behaviour contravenes all parts of article 13.2 the Council Code of Conduct for treatment of City staff:

13.2 Under the direction of the City Manager, City employees serve the Council as a whole, and the combined interests of all members of Council as evidenced through the decisions of Council. Accordingly:

(a) members of Council shall be respectful of the role of City employees to advise based on political neutrality and objectivity and without undue influence from any individual member or faction of the Council;

(b) no member of Council shall maliciously, falsely, negligently or recklessly injure the professional or ethical reputation, or the prospects or practice of City employees; and

(c) members of Council shall show respect for the professional capacities of City employees.

This public chastisement of staff initiative and criticism of their professionalism also violates the City's Corporate Pillars of success:

I urge Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Chris Murray to stand up for the City's professional staff, urge their colleague to publicly apologize, and publicly reassure staff that they have full faith in their neutrality, expertise and professionalism.

Council could repair some of the damage by voting to express its appreciation for staff initiative in their successful application for $295,000 of Provincial bike infrastructure funding.

Anything less would be an abandonment of high-quality staff and will lead to further erosion of staff's morale and confidence in their ability to do their job in an ambitious, proactive and professional manner free from the threat of retribution.

Poster: 5 Culture Pillars (Image Credit: Graham Crawford)
Poster: 5 Culture Pillars (Image Credit: Graham Crawford)

Nicholas Kevlahan was born and raised in Vancouver, and then spent eight years in England and France before returning to Canada in 1998. He has been a Hamiltonian since then, and is a strong believer in the potential of this city. Although he spends most of his time as a mathematician, he is also a passionate amateur urbanist and a fan of good design. You can often spot him strolling the streets of the downtown, shopping at the Market. Nicholas is the spokesperson for Hamilton Light Rail.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2016 at 06:35:09

Councillor Whitehead's conduct at the April 20 GIC was truly appalling. He berated and bullied staff publicly for doing their jobs with creativity and initiative - exactly what the city's Corporate Pillars are supposed to value.

Councillor Whitehead continues to smear staff on social media, accusing them of inappropriate conduct and claiming City Manager Chris Murray apologized. He is conflating what is at worst a lapse in communication about the funding application with some imagined impropriety in how the application itself was made.

The Bay Street cycling project is identified in Appendix A of the Cycling Master Plan as a priority, and it was selected in the City's application to the Province because it was an excellent candidate for approval under the provincial selection criteria. Out of almost 150 municipal expressions of interest, Hamilton's bid was one of only 37 that were approved.

The employees who undertook to seek Provincial funding for a Council-approved priority project should be praised for their leadership, not castigated and smeared on the public record at an official meeting and on the media.

This kind of behaviour, if allowed to stand unchallenged, helps perpetuate a toxic culture of fear in which staff are afraid to approach their jobs with integrity, pride and initiative for fear of triggering a parochial backlash from an abusive leader.

Under the terms of the Council Code of Conduct, Councillor Whitehead must apologize for his actions and retract his statements. If he will not do so voluntarily, I hope we can trust Council to step in and hold him accountable. The best way to salvage something of this debacle is for staff to see Council as a body take its own Code of Conduct seriously with respect to its members.

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By jim (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 10:44:18 in reply to Comment 117871

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By giveitarest (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 07:47:29 in reply to Comment 117871

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted April 25, 2016 at 08:35:20 in reply to Comment 117873

If you're all done hyperventilating, staff didn't do anything wrong. There is a question as to why the Cycling Committee report didn't get presented to Council, but what staff did in applying for provincial funding for a council-approved priority project was entirely proper and consistent with their council direction.

This is only a controversy because Councillor Whitehead is conflating the communication issue with a false claim that staff somehow did something wrong in pursuing an opportunity to get some provincial funding for a Council-approved project. And the reason Councillor Whitehead is doing this is quite clear: he sees an opportunity to exploit anti-urban resentment for his own political purposes.

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By suresure (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 12:02:55 in reply to Comment 117874

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By DBC (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 12:58:04 in reply to Comment 117885

cow-towing? Unless you were born under a turnip. What's that; pulling a Holstein behind your car?

or.....

kow·tow (kou-tou′, kou′tou′) intr.v. kow·towed, kow·tow·ing, kow·tows 1. To kneel and touch the forehead to the ground in expression of deep respect, worship, or submission, as formerly done in China. 2. To show servile deference. See Synonyms at fawn1. n. 1. The act of kneeling and touching the forehead to the ground. 2. An obsequious act.

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By kevlahan (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 12:25:49 in reply to Comment 117885

The Bay Street cycle lane was a priority project identified in the 2009 Cycling Master Plan that was approved by Council. Staff did not themselves suddenly decide that Bay Street would be part of the cycle plan, or that it would be a priority project. Council made that decision.

In other words, the project has been approved by Council and Council has allocated annual funding for cycling to help them implement the Plan!

Staff has been tasked by Council with implementing the projects in the Cycling Master Plan and should be able to use their professional judgement to determine the best sequencing to achieve that goal.

Applying for provincial funding is a perfectly reasonable and pro-active way of doing it. The fact that theirs was one of the successful projects is a testament to the soundness of their judgement.

What is the point of having Council-approved Master Plans which identify a subset of priority projects if each individual project is then subjected to Council votes and second-guessing? If additional funding is required, that needs to be approved by Council, but the projects themselves were already approved by Council seven years ago.

[Note that the LRT is also a council-approved project, with the condition that it is 100% provincial funded.]

Comment edited by kevlahan on 2016-04-25 12:34:11

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By suresure (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 17:41:35 in reply to Comment 117887

"City staff cherry-picked the project without council's approval or knowledge." See today's Spec.

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By dur (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 22:09:05 in reply to Comment 117899

This is hilarious. The spec article you are quoting is an opinion piece NOT news.

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By Oh (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2016 at 05:27:11 in reply to Comment 117903

Unlike all the "news" on this page!

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By KevinLove (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 10:28:27 in reply to Comment 117874

The Cycling Committee report was presented to Council, specifically to PWC on February 29. In accordance with past practice and PWC request, this was a high-level overview.

It would have been highly inappropriate to have included an item about a purely speculative future possibility about a sum of money so small that it is not a material amount of Council's budget.

If Mr. Whitehead wishes this level of detail in future presentations, he is welcome to introduce a motion at PWC requesting this level of detail. In the highly unlikely event that such a motion passes, much, much more time will be required on the PWC agenda to present every future speculative possibility for every street in Hamilton. I would also suggest that this vast increase in work should result in the members of HCyC involved in this presentation being paid for their time instead of being unpaid volunteers.

A question has been raised about the minutes of HCyC meetings being submitted properly. I will follow up on this question at the next meeting on May 4.

Comment edited by KevinLove on 2016-04-25 10:32:37

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By Petanca (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 12:33:26 in reply to Comment 117880

I sure wish Councillor Whitehead got the province to foot half the bill for his $1.7 million bocce court upgrades.

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By Cultosaurus (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 07:23:20 in reply to Comment 117871

This situation has little to do with staff "not communicating with council" and more to do with the fact that Whitehead couldn't get ahead of the situation and introduce another one of his asinine motions to block bike lanes.

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By jason (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 08:51:09 in reply to Comment 117872

Bingo

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 09:26:11

Me thinks, your Councilor Whitehead has control issues!

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By highasageorgiapine (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 09:59:15

the public service in the city is highly politicized and subsequently morale is abysmal. there have been efforts to change the culture of the public service but it's a hard road made more difficult by our council who put their careers ahead of their civic duty

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By Haveacow (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 10:31:22

Oh I forgot, "giveitarest" they are the public's employees not Councilor Whitehead's! He is a Councilor not their boss. Their direct bosses and supervisors are the senior managers and civil servants of the City of Hamilton. City Council under Ontario law must direct their operation requests through their various City Department Mangers, they don't order anyone! Council is completely and functionally separate and independent from the municipal staff.

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By imtheboss (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 11:46:07 in reply to Comment 117881

Hierarchy of authority - Taxpayer (biggest boss) - council (big boss) - managers (boss) - harry smarty pants pulling a fast one to get per-approval for external funding thereby also trying to embarrass big boss (not a boss)

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By Heynexttime (anonymous) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 12:06:49

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By TheDude (registered) | Posted April 25, 2016 at 17:37:22

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By Thought I Smelled Smoke (anonymous) | Posted April 26, 2016 at 09:39:28

See.....now you're getting it. Everyone on here is expressing an opinion. Good job!

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