Philip Mcleod

The McLeod Report - London, Ontario

A regular commentary on civic affairs in London, Canada by journalist Philip McLeod.

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1,232 words just to say no

TODAY’S REPORT #1,035: London’s civic administration was asked by city council for an update on recommendations from a consultant to improve its community economic strategy. It took a lot of words to say, in essence, nothing has been done yet. At least one city councillor suggested in this case less would be more.

Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 – London, ON

We’re going to miss Joe Swan when he’s gone from city council, which may well be after the Oct. 27 election if the polls are to be believed.

Mr. Swan, who over the course of a dozen years around city politics has moved from the left to the right, has a way of skewering even the most complicated debate and finding the sweet nut of an idea in the centre.

He was at it again this week, addressing a subject near to his heart – the tendency by some members of the civic administration to say in a mouthful or more what could have been said in a word or two.

The subject under discussion was an update on London’s economic development strategy, the subject of a recent study by KPMG. The consultants made six recommendations, which you’ll find at the end of the report which was submitted to council last June.

At the time council requested the administration to report back on the proposed recommendations, including “a detailed plan for the development of a community economic strategy.”

So far so good. These kinds of requests happen routinely. After all, city council’s job is to look at the big picture; it’s the administration’s job to make council’s wishes happen.

Therefore, when council met on Monday as the strategic priorities and policy committee, a report back from the administration, signed in fact by Art Zuidema, the highly-paid city manager, was on the agenda. Pretty much the entire agenda in fact.

It took the authors of the report some 1,232 words to essentially say no, in answer to the question have you got a new plan. Nothing very much has happened to date in responding to the recommendations.

I’m not going to reproduce the entire document, but it is worth reading in you want a lesson in bureaucratic rear-end covering.  This little excerpt will give you a taste of its contents.

One of the KPMG recommendations was to ensure council got annual updates from all city-funded economic development organizations without actually making a commitment on a course of action. So this was the answer:

“The KPMG report provides specific recommendations on the format and template for reporting by all economic development organizations which receive city funding. The civic administration is reviewing these recommendations in an effort to ensure they are integrated within the existing reporting structure through the budget process. It being noted that the city’s economic strategy will help guide the work of each of the city funded economic development organizations.”

Whew! Can hardly wait. Except, of course, we’ll all have to. The city administration hasn’t yet got very much of anything done on the recommendations. This isn’t to condemn their work ethic which, for the most part, is quite strong. Anyway, since late June until now have been the summer vacation months for City Hall workers too.

And Mr. Swan wasn’t being critical either, just practical.
Here was his recommendation to Mr. Zuidema and company: “Sometimes a two-line update would be a lot more substantive than a long report.”

Amen to that.