Municipal Governance: Leading or Managing? (Part 1 of 3)

As mayor, my intent will be to lead - not merely manage, our town. I am the candidate with the necessary skill-set from my years of experience in public leadership. 

Behind the ideology of managerialism is the belief that governments can be run like for-profit businesses and citizens treated like customers/shareholders. However, there are fundamental and important differences in the way for-profit businesses and governments are run. Managerial concepts from the private sector do not transfer well to the public sector. Private managers create private (economic) value whereas public managers create public (social) value.

A town's management is very different than business management. The mayor is not the manager of a municipality. In fact, the Director-General is a town's manager. Elected officials, council and mayor, are the leaders. If the mayor and council tell the manager to focus on the goal of creating private value only, the citizens (especially those that don't reap the rewards) will understandably be upset. To succeed at the task of governing, good leaders need to frame their decisions with public value in mind. Only then can those  we elect be truly transparent and accountable in an honest and straight-forward manner to citizens. Otherwise governance is founded on a false premise: that it is run exactly like a business. This idea is a recipe for failure.

Surely there are similarities between the two, you may ask. On an abstract level there are compelling similarities. Both a private sector leader and a public sector leader are interested in making the most of their existing assets by finding ways to produce products and services or achieving social results at the lowest possible cost. But beyond this similarity, there are important differences between business management and public leadership. These are outlined by Mark Moore of the Kennedy School of Governance at Harvard University in his great, seminal work: Creating Public Value.

Sources of revenue

Businesses and governments are fundamentally different in the way that they source revenue.

Investors put their capital in a business because they believe that the product or service being offered will produce tangible returns and growth for them at a future point in time. Business revenues depend on individual consumers making choices to purchase a product or service with their own money. If consumers don't have the confidence to buy the product or service, then the investment capital also disappears and the business folds.

In government, we all know that it is taxpayer money that provides revenue for continuing operations. To continue to be viable, government leaders need to produce a compelling vision of public value. Responsible leaders need to convince citizens of the value of their decisions before the citizens money is used. Unlike shareholders, citizens cannot voluntarily withdraw their investment. 

Management Discretion

Furthermore, the discretion that public (government) and private (business) managers use is different.

Public agencies operate in what is called an authorizing environment, this is the collection of individuals in different positions that legitimize the authority and spending power of the municipal government. Then there are the various organizations that influence the government. Whereas private businesses have much more leeway to define and re-define their purpose and have a wider range of ways to execute decisions, the public realm is influenced by a large, diverse and vocal population and limited by the authorizing environment.

A CEO of a private company is accountable to the board of directors and the shareholders only. The key difference between business management and public leadership is the way that executives interact with those to whom they are accountable. Citizens and their representatives are often much more active in their oversight than shareholders. A citizen cannot withdraw their share options as easily as the shareholder when he/she doesn't like the direction that the leadership is taking.

With over twenty years of experience working within the public authorizing environment - at the local, provincial, national and international levels of decision making - I'm ready to act for our town's best interests.

Performance Measurement

The way that private business and the public sector measure performance is different.

Private management can easily assess the performance of their company. The sale of goods or services result in a bottom line that tell the private managers whether profit or loss is made. A growth in profits creates shareholder value.

All the money that goes into running the town isn't from private consumer choices but from collectively supplied taxpayer dollars. At an operational and concrete level, results are easily measured in a for profit business. This is not the case with government operations where results are continually contested in a highly politicized environment.

The public leader measures success in social outcomes rather than profits. In this way a government more closely resembles a not-for-profit business. However, the idea of a social outcome is not as tangible or immediate as the bottom line of the private sector. Furthermore, social outcomes may occur long after the administration that made the decisions are gone. For instance, it became a social goal for the United States to reach the moon by the end of the 1960s. This was achieved long after the Kennedy administration was gone. So measuring success is not always easy in the public sector.

Both the private and public sector leaders create value. The context in which they create it are different, though. The private sector does so in a market environment where market indicators are well established. The public sector operates in a task environment, where progress is measured by how far along the task at hand has advanced. Public managers have to be concerned with how they will provide the resources to deal with conditions and needs at hand. They can't rely on customer revenue alone.

To put this in layman's terms I provide a simple example. We all pay for the roads that we use. Even if a citizen doesn't drive along Cote-St-Charles every day because they live on the East End in District 1 (Como), they will still be expected to subsidize the road's maintenance. To put market conditions on roads would be absurd. The roads that were less used would be allowed to fall into disrepair simply because they were used less.

A social outcome of taking care of the roads would be that collectively we are safer with well maintained and designed roads. We can measure how close we are to achieving that goal by measuring the progress of what percentage of the roads are now safer due to better construction.

A Nicholls administration will provide a scorecard for citizens that measures the progress of creating public value for Hudsonites. In turn I will work with the permanent staff to ensure that citizens priorities are advanced at town hall and that the administration keeps everyone abreast of developments and progress towards their goals.

 My Experience as a leader

I have extensive experience in public leadership.

A private for-profit business is not the same as a public government. The differences are important. I have the requisite two decades of experience of working with and in the public sector. Whereas a business manager may be very skillful at what they do in market conditions, many end up frustrated by the differences in the process of public and private governance.

My journey in the public sector began two decades ago when I managed a communications project for homeless youth for the government of British Columbia in 1997. It continued through policy work with the City of Vancouver and the Government of British Columbia concerning social outcomes for early childhood and families in the early to mid 2000s. I served two years as a founding director for the para-public organization COBAVER-VS (Our Vaudreuil-Soulanges Watershed Council). Then four years in Federal office as the Member of Parliament for Vaudreuil-Soulanges. Last year (2016) I worked with McGill's Liber Ero Chair in Conservation Biology and the Town of St-Lazare to complete a study with citizens and a written report concerning quality of life in St-Lazare. I have a wealth of knowledge and experience in public leadership. 

In my next article I will outline how this experience will best serve the interests of the citizens of Hudson in my capacity as mayor.


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