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‘Twelve ways to kill Calvin,’ a community’s guide to survive

E4M’s Tammy Albers offers Calvin Township advice to thrive
Calvin~photo supplied (1)
The Municipality of Calvin was provided an insightful list into 12 things to stop doing if they want to survive / Photo supplied

Tammy Albers recently stopped by Calvin Township’s council meeting to offer a handy list with a macabre outcome—“twelve ways to kill Calvin”—and offered advice on how to avoid that fate.

Albers is a wellness strategist and director with Expertise for Municipalities (E4M), an organization serving municipalities throughout Ontario by offering training, Integrity Commissioner services, and help with creating strategic planning to guide councils.

“The municipal sector in rural and northern Ontario is underserviced with respect to affordable and effective training and municipally related services” E4M explain on their website, and the organization formed to address that issue.

As such, Albers and Chelsea DeGagne appeared before Calvin’s council on November 23 to help provide a “go forward strategy” for the township.

“We’ve come to a place where we hope to move Calvin forward,” Albers said, before delving into the aptly titled presentation, “Moving Calvin Forward.”

“It has become apparent that if council continues to govern the way they have since elected in 2018, the legacy of this council will be unremarkable at best and at worse significantly costly to taxpayers.”

Albers came to this conclusion “based on the responses to the survey,” E4M conducted, one-on-one interviews with each member of council, and a community engagement exercise completed by some but not all of council.”

Things need “to be changed or done differently,” within the township, Albers said, before listing suggestions of what council should stop doing if they want to improve their operations.

“We have come up with 12 things that if council continues doing them, could or will kill Calvin,” she said.

Indeed, the dramatic introduction gained attention, and the title came off slightly tongue-in-cheek, but Albers’ list offered a guide outlining behaviours and practices to avoid if a municipality wants to succeed.

Albers explained the title and the idea for the list came from 13 Ways to Kill your Community, a book by Doug Griffiths and Kelly Clemmer outlining years of insights after working with various Canadian municipalities.

A few lessons from that tract include “don’t attract business, shop elsewhere,” and don’t cooperate” with other people and organizations was a sure-fire way for a town to turn to ash.

Albers and DeGagne created their own version for Calvin to help them avoid killing off their township.

“Continuing to purposely undermine council,” was the first point of their death list. “Once a decision is made support it,” and do not “disrespect council’s decision to staff and or members of the public.”

Do not make “negative statements” about such decisions to the press or social media, she emphasized.

“Micromanaging and not leading,” also leads to demise, Albers’ list highlighted. “Council is a governing body not a group of individuals who each tell staff what to do.”

The CAO does that, she emphasized.

“Things fall apart when council or a member of council tries to take on the role of administrator.”

Another factor leading to municipal death is “paying too much attention to, and deciding in favour of, the fist bangers and not what is in the best interest of the municipality as a whole.”

Fist bangers? “The ones who are the loudest and the most demanding in the community,” Albers clarified.

“They almost bully us into just resigning and making the decision in their favour just to make them go away.”

“Have a backbone,” she urged, and “don’t cater to the vocal few!”

Point four noted “promoting personal interests” was a sure way to decay, and number five recommended council not “view municipal employees as the enemy.”

“And we see this a lot in many municipalities,” she said.

“By continuing to enable disrespect among council members, between council and employees, and between members of council and the public generally,” summed up her sixth warning regarding what not to do.

“Always listening to the naysayers or strongly opinionated individuals on social media,” was not a recipe for success, Albers mentioned, noting councillors should “step outside of your comfort zone and talk to the residents especially if they are not part of your circle of family, friends and acquaintances.”

Albers also urged Calvin to adopt a strategic plan to guide the community. “Fail to plan, you plan to fail,” she said, a failure that constitutes the ninth lesson on her list.

“Having a personal agenda” rounds out number 10, Albers said, reminding council they “represent the people, not your personal agenda.”

“By not being decisive,” council also puts their community at risk, as does “believing ‘we’ve always done it this way’” is a valid reason to be “resistant to change.”

So went Albers’ twelve steps to municipal death, although she threw in a 13th for good measure.

“By being fearful of being bold,” a council is doomed. “Be brave, make the decision,” she said.

“The most effective councillors have courage to make the unpopular decisions.”

DeGagne explained that “going forward” council needs “to make a commitment to act as a responsible level of government, treat people with respect, and engage with the community.”

She also suggested council accept the challenge to adopt a “true vision” for the community over the next year, and “adopt a new organization and relationship structure with a municipal administrator as their only employee and all other employees report to this position.”

Moreover, DeGagne urged council to “adopt a community engagement strategy.”

E4M is willing to help, she added. “We want to stay with Calvin and provide any kind of support needed.”

Council agreed, and Mayor Ian Pennell thanked Albers and DeGagne “for your suggestions, and I think we do need to engage the members of our municipality.”

“I look forward to working with you to determine how to do that,” he added.

“We’re full of ideas,” Albers said.

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.