I had a group of kids visit me at City Hall a few weeks ago – home learners taking a Civics 101 class. About 20 of them sat down around a table with me, and peppered me with questions. The first question they asked, “What does a mayor do?” I’ve been asked this question a lot since taking office and from a wide variety of people.
What does a mayor do? And what is this mayor going to do?
The roles and responsibilities of the mayor are very clearly outlined in the Community Charter, which is the provincial legislation through which municipalities get their power. Bear with me and check out the relevant section of the Community Charter. Then – before your eyes glaze over from legal speak – I’ll tell you what I think is most important and what I’d like to focus on as your mayor for the next four years.
Responsibilities of Mayor
116 (1) The mayor is the head and chief executive officer of the municipality.
(2) In addition to the mayor’s responsibilities as a member of council, the mayor has the following responsibilities:
(a) to provide leadership to the council, including by recommending bylaws, resolutions and other measures that, in the mayor’s opinion, may assist the peace, order and good government of the municipality;
(b) to communicate information to the council;
(c) to preside at council meetings when in attendance;
(d) to provide, on behalf of the council, general direction to municipal officers respecting implementation of municipal policies, programs and other directions of the council;
(e) to establish standing committees in accordance with section 141;
(f) to suspend municipal officers and employees in accordance with section 151;
(g) to reflect the will of council and to carry out other duties on behalf of the council;
(h) to carry out other duties assigned under this or any other Act.
Leadership. Communication. Direction.
These are the words that resonate. Let’s focus on leadership. To me, providing leadership to the Council doesn’t just mean chairing meetings, representing the Council at public events, or being the spokesperson on Council decisions. These things are easy to do.
Providing leadership, to me, means being a proactive, forward-looking, big-picture mayor, focused on the strategic direction of the City in the short, medium and long term. It means being willing to bring forward and recommend resolutions that are bold and that take ‘good government’ in a 21st century direction of openness, meaningful public participation, and new modes of collaboration, to name a few.
Being this kind of mayor requires focus, discipline and time.
Rigid Discipline and Ruthless Focus
When I was a PhD. student, responsible only to myself and my dissertation committee, I was rigidly disciplined and ruthlessly focused. Over the past five years starting and running Community Micro Lending and working hard as a City Councilor I lost much of that discipline and focus.
It’s easy to open my email inbox, respond to all the new emails and feel like I’m getting lots done. Or to engage in a lengthy Twitter or Facebook conversation, or have seven back-to-back one-on-one meetings and feel like I’m moving things forward. To be an effective mayor I need to find a strong balance between immediate demands and strategic focus.
So, I spent the December holiday planning how to bring discipline and focus with me to the position of mayor. What principles can I apply to help shape the bulk of my time before I answer emails, respond to tweets, settle in at a coffee shop for a one-on-one?
As the Community Charter says, “The mayor is the head and chief executive officer of the municipality.” In the private sector, a CEO’s job is to set the strategy and vision and oversee implementation, create a positive organizational culture, build a strong team, and allocate capital.
What MUST I do?
Each morning I ask myself, “What MUST I do today to focus on strategy, vision, organizational culture, team building and financial oversight at the City of Victoria?” And then, I make a list. Right now most of the list items are focused on strategic planning, building relationships with other community leaders, working hard with the Council and staff to create a positive organizational culture and build a strong team. If I lose my way during the day, find myself lost in the world of email or twitter, responding to immediate needs, I return to my MUST list. It’s become a touchstone and a guide.
You’ll still find me answering emails, responding to tweets, and meeting one-on-one, most often at Habit, Solstice or 2 Per Cent Jazz. But hopefully only after my “What MUST I do today?” list has satisfying check marks beside every item.