Lehman sets a lofty bar

So, what should residents expect from their new mayor? Not a hard question to answer. Lehman himself provided the responses

by John Devine

Monday night’s gathering of the 2006-2010 city council was a rather sedate affair, perhaps not surprising considering the robust campaigning in which most of them were engaged, culminating in the Monday, Oct. 25 municipal election.
It will be goodbye to some of them, including Mayor Dave Aspden and Ward 1 councillor Mike Ramsay, both mayoral candidates; Ward 2’s Jeff Lehman moves to the big chair as the new mayor.
But it will be hello to many new faces, and that represents both a challenge and an opportunity to Lehman and his goals for the city.
New members are Peter Silveira in Ward 5, Bonnie Ainsworth in Ward 1, Jennifer Robinson in Ward 8, and Brian Jackson in Ward 9. Returning members are Lynn Strachan in Ward 2, Barry Ward in Ward 4, Michael Prowse in Ward 6, John Brassard in Ward 7, and Alex Nutall in Ward 10.

Mayor Jeff Lehman

It’s a mixture of experience and freshness that could, if properly harnessed and channeled, usher in a new culture of inclusiveness and openness at City Hall, a focus on assisting the city’s small businesses to become larger, building consensus around the council table, and a resolve to work closer with the city’s neighbours – all, by the way, campaign themes of the new mayor.
Lehman has set the bar pretty high, and all eyes will be on him to see how he does in managing expectations.
So, what should residents expect from their new mayor? Not a hard question to answer. Lehman himself provided the responses – see the City Scene Barrie interview with the new mayor. From his own statements, here’s what he’ll be expected to deliver.

• Assistance to the city’s small-business sector

While not turning away from pursuing investments that will produce jobs and assessment, Lehman says more of a focus needs to be put on helping the city’s homegrown small businesses to expand so that they can employ more people.
That should mean helping them with operating expenses through the support of shared work environments, or incubator projects, and using the city’s energies to help secure new markets and opportunities. It should also mean that when spending money on projects, or consultants, the city should have an approach that fully considers local resources before going elsewhere.
For instance, say the city had $300,000 to spend for a report on improving efficiencies at City Hall. The normal procedure would be to send all of that money out of town to some big-name consultant, who’d do the work and file the report. All well and good, but money spent that does nothing to support the local economy.
How’s this for an alternative approach?
Have senior staff identify the goals, resources, and parameters. Use that $300,000 to get input and results from, say, 10 local businesses with relevant experience. Throughout the process, senior staff manages expectations and resources. At the end of the day, you have a result that involves senior staff at a management level, while providing local businesses with an opportunity to grow. You also build expertise in the community.
A bit of a radical approach, yes, but what about it doesn’t make sense?

• Consensus and team building around the council table
We’ve had enough to the lone-wolf approach, yes? Lehman has a chance to turn the page on the rancor of the previous council, which could be described as dysfunctional, fractious and contentious. If that’s to happen, he’ll need to build consensus to lead. Without that ability, he’ll be just another vote around the table, unable to deliver his strategic vision for the city.

• Openness and inclusiveness

Lehman says he wants to change the culture of communication at City Hall so that residents are not only more involved in the big issues, they are aware of them much earlier in the process.
Lehman says he wants to get issues out into the community, to allow residents input at the beginning, not at the end or even the middle of the process.
The mayor should be encouraged to pursue this approach, and we’ll be watching his progress. It’s a misnomer that people aren’t interested in municipal politics. They are, especially when a development impacts their neighbourhood, or street. Then they pack council chambers to have their say.
Problem is, by then it’s usually too late – at the end of the process when decisions are being made about recommendations.
And it’s a disservice to dismiss such involvement as NIMBYISM. There may well be good overriding reasons to ignore a neighbourhood’s concerns, but community activism shouldn’t be derailed as mere complaint.

• Partnering with the city’s neighbours

With the fractious debate over annexation of Innisfil land behind the city, Lehman says there is an opportunity to work with our southern neighbour on interests of mutual concern.
It makes sense. Some in Barrie might not like it, but this is a region and there’s no reason why certain services shouldn’t be provided on a regional planning basis. That includes transportation.
For instance, at the recent Inspiring Innisfil 2020 Summit, basically a strategic-visioning process that involved the community, the lack of transportation services was raised as a concern. Rather than developing a separate transit facility, it makes sense to use existing resources and expand transit on a regional basis, with proper costing of course.
The city also needs to be more involved with the county at the committee level. Considering the millions of dollars (more than $20 million) the city sends to the county each year for services, including land ambulance and social services, it’s ridiculous that Barrie doesn’t have more say as to how that money is spent. That type of input will only come from direct involvement.
Speaking of the Innisfil summit, this type of strategic-visioning exercise, with its community involvement, should serve as a template for Lehman and the new council on how to involve the community in the larger issues, including the city’s future.
There’s a lot of work ahead for the new mayor. But, as he’s the one who set the agenda and tone, he shouldn’t be surprised by the expectations.

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