Coleman’s Note: Naming or Not Naming Civic Managers

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Viv Saunders of the Lakewood Beach Community Council is one of Hamilton’s most engaged citizens; a citizen who I regularly learn from in her commentary and analysis of civic issues.

Today, in front of Council representing LBCC, Saunders stated to Council that she does not know who the Manager of Development Planning is.

That Saunders does not know this causes me pause, have I failed to properly inform the public?

Her comment was in the context of explaining to Council their options in controlling the proposed three tall buildings development at 310 Frances Avenue in Stoney Creek.

Specifically, Saunders was providing an excellent explanation of the Planning Act’s regulations on Site Plan approval, and that Council retains ultimate authority on Site Plan approval.

Council has delegated that authority to the General Manager of Planning and Economic Development, who has sub-delegated the authority to the Manager of Development Planning.

I did not realize this, having assumed that the authority was with the Director of Planning Steve Robichaud, more commonly known by the second half of their title – the Chief Planner. The Manager of Development Planning reports to the Chief Planner.

In government, the civil service is generally nameless. They serve the public interest by advising the government, and the practice of not naming individual civil servants is reflective that they represent an entity and not themselves.

My general practice is to only name staff in the top-three layers of City Hall management: the City Manager, General Managers, and Directors.

The naming of managers is only when a position holds significant responsibilities of authority, is a spokesperson or in a public facing role, or is acting in a manner that the public should be aware of – both good and not so good.

With this delegated authority, the Manager of Development Planning is someone who should be named in my reporting.

This brings us to who is the Manager of Development Planning. The full title of the position is Manager of Development Planning, Heritage and Design.

Anita Fabac is the holder of this position. A Registered Professional Planner, Fabac is a career civil servant who has worked for Halton and Hamilton as a planner, progressively advancing in responsibility.

Fabac is a very competent manager, a good planner, well respected by both developers and community members who interact with her. She was a key architect of the Downtown Hamilton Secondary Plan.

Fabac does her job well, and never seeks the limelight.

As many of you know, I was on the executive of the Beasley Neighbourhood Association from 2015 to 2018, and in this role I represented the BNA in some planning matters. Prior to being on the executive, I was at times requested to assist with files.

One of these files was a Site Plan meeting where a developer requested the Beasley Neighbourhood Association be present to address demands from the Public Works department for road widening, and major sewer studies.

(Aside rant: the City continued to dream of making Wilson Street six lanes, sigh, the amount of time we in the community have to consume on these silly things)

Fabac was staff chair of that meeting, Site Plan meetings are not open to the public, and managed the meeting very well. Public Works staff objected to the BNA being present at the meeting, Fabac thoughtfully explained why she as Chair would allow me to be present on behalf of the BNA.

I left that meeting impressed with her abilities.

Since this time, I’m regularly observed Fabac’s professionalism, honestly, and integrity.

As for why she’s never been named in my coverage, despite having such a key role in Planning?

All of us media covering City Hall generally quote the City’s Chief Planner or General Manager of Economic Planning and Development. Searching using Google finds only 22 mentions of Fabac between myself, TheSpec, Hamilton Community News, and CBC.

I went further into checking my coverage, to see if I had given different coverage to the now Chief Planner when he was the Manager of Development Planning. I did not mention him when he was manager.

Moving forward, I will make note of Fabac when she is engaged in managing files or issues, alongside the Chief Planner.

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Last edited: April 16, 2019
Author: Joey Coleman

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One thought on “Coleman’s Note: Naming or Not Naming Civic Managers

  1. Joey, I appreciate the fact that you’ve been thinking about this. It is an important theme.

    City staff ought not to be needlessly embroiled in the political tides of every day issues. However, they are key players and I get the feeling daily that our elected members of council like to hide behind staff members, or use “defer to staff for consultation” or “direct staff to do this or that.”

    If a person is employed by the city in any management or oversight capacity I expect that they should be ready to have their name and some basic personal short bio and photograph published somewhere, most likely on the city website and other public documents. My rationale is that a city would want to have this information up on its website, assuming that in a perfect world the website was updated daily and organized in a way that reflects order, progress, and transparency. HA!

    In practice we have the whole range of human possibilities. Of course we have many, many excellent staffers and city workers who are perfectly invisible by name. They keep things humming along, hallelujah. Some others have their presence known in different ways, not good or bad necessarily, ie. an announcement of an internal promotion, or their name is on a report, their name is on an office door or desk, or they participate in a public meeting. Finally there are the key players, the senior staff and directors that you mentioned. These people are powerful and should be publicly known and willing to to have it that way. Unfortunately, there are some internal political forces affecting staff that we don’t see, but which have an effect on all the areas of leadership. Some staff, I suppose, could position themselves to obstruct things, or are poor managers and perhaps even bullies. At the very worst some may even collude with elected members to skirt proper procedures, or to avoid bringing an issue into public view.

    It makes for interesting coverage, and I think it’s something that we all need to careful with.

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