Daily Grind of Local Administration, III

Diversification on the municipal clerical job include health and safety requirements for workers at computer terminals to have ten minute breaks every hour from the terminals. Other methods of diversion are to simply do a different thing within the framework of the job to get away from the tedium of a specific task. Office work has enough various components to it that complications of overspecialization and forms of burn out can be offset by pacing and varying the work throughout the day.

Employment and promotion opportunities are listed on all departmental bulletin boards three days before the vacancies are listed for the general public. If employees have the qualifications to meet job requirements within a different department, they are eligable to apply for the job. This example continues to illustrate the separateness, the “stove pipe” quality of bureaucratic organizational structure. Daily or weekly interactions between departments do not occur. There is no thought for innovation to promote a wholistic policy development to the members of city council. Would they listen?

Two part-time clerical staff existed in the St. Catharines City Hall in 1994. Temporary staff filled in for the regular staff when on vacation, maternity leave and sick leave.

Ms. Potter expressed some dismay that the meaning of long term disability has changed. She lamented that people do not try to cope anymore. This did not indicate any lack of compassion or active concern for staff. Her manner was careful when explaining how a couple of times when workers developed stress over time in their jobs that the department altered the job description to enable workers to stay on. Some tasks were given to other workers. The personnel had to negotiate with the union for this breaking of established job descriptions and to rearrange the work load. It was carefully put to me that the jobs in themselves were not stressful. This was a clear case of the personnel department having a human face.

Each Department has its own policy and procedure manual. The Personnel Department manual is updated to get rid of redundant material and to comply with the Human Rights Code.

Policy Changes

The line of communication for policy changes move from the director to the City Administrator, to the department heads who then implement the changes in their departments. If the City Administrator does not approve the policy change or finds it unworkable, the policy “dies” on the spot or it is sent back to city councillors for redrafting. Redrafting is not a turn-down of the policy outright. Yet, innovative problem-solving appears to be lacking. Part-time elected city councillors are left with a need to “please” the City Administrator. Is this too harsh?

Do city councillors work for the electorate or for the City Administrator?

I do not mean to cast aspersions upon City Administrators. They are highly educated, with a great deal of experience, and a work load that would daunt anyone. No one knows better how the City works function than they. However, old organizational structures do tend to keep to a status quo that may well need changing.The style of organization does not lend itself to necessary innovations as each person does their best within the framework passed down to them.

Orientation videos and on-the-job training are part of the new employee package.

Communication

Word of mouth communication is used for only minor events. Anything of a legal nature is always sent by memo. Naturally then, all memos must be carefully kept in a safe and organized manner. All correspondence with the union is kept. The Engineering Department and City Clerks have an elaborate filing system in which all items are numbered and filed.

Comparison

Max Weber predicted that bureaucratic administration would pervaid all forms of organization.1 The City administrative system depends on legal authority. Weber saw administrative bureaucracy through legal authority as an ideal situation in which laws and regulations must be obeyed by both ruler and ruled. Obedience to a set of impersonal rules instead of primary obedience to a person provides order and prevents chaos.2

Embedded in the hiring process, fair play is ensured. If the personnel department wants to promote someone who does not have seniority, they cannot do so unless they can demonstrate with objective evaluations to the union (CUPE, Canadian Union of Public Employees) why this should be the case.

Conversely, when the personnel office wanted to accommodate staff members who were experiencing stress related to the workplace, the personnel department was required to negotiate with the union workplace adjustments to meet these unique needs. Laws and regulations take precidence over personal inclinations, and personal preferences need to be tested by established rules. 

1Kenneth Kernaghan and David Siegel, Public Administration in Canada, (Scarborough: Nelson Canada, 1991) 36, 37.

2Ibid., 26.

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