Welcome to My Year in Review!
When I decided to run for City Councillor, I knew my years of experience working with community groups, levels of government, fund development projects, and business/community leaders in Winnipeg would be valuable in this role. A year later, I’m realizing this experience is proving to be priceless. This is a very fast paced working environment, volumes of information need to be processed, major decisions have to be made, the phone keeps ringing, e-mails keep coming, and the meetings and appointments never end! And while I’ve been able to draw on past experiences, the first year’s learning curve has been enormous, fascinating and a bit frightful (actually, it’s not a curve at all – it’s straight up the mountain!).
Accomplishments, Ward Priorities & The Big Picture
During the 2014 election campaign, residents clearly expressed challenges and opportunities for the South Winnipeg–St. Norbert electoral ward. This feedback was invaluable in helping me understand and set ward priorities for my term. I’ve posted these priorities, and am constantly updating my activities in these priority areas: SEE HERE
In my first year, I’ve been engaging with residents to refine ward priorities and actions. I’ve held multiple open houses (upwards of 10) to hear from residents on how they want our parks, trees, transportation networks, transit, rental housing, and new communities developed and maintained. I’ve helped to form residents’ groups, advisory groups (upward of 7) and a task force. These discussions with residents are providing me and the community clear direction on moving forward. I know planning takes time, but it is an important exercise. Good planning take on a whole new perspective when you enter into a 4-year term. This first year of planning will set the foundation for financial decisions and initiatives going forward in my term and hopefully for others in years to come.
Within the South Winnipeg-St. Norbert ward, I’ve focused my time on the following issues in 2015:
- Communicating with residents through a comprehensive website, community meetings, and articles in The Sou’Wester and Lance community newspapers
- Addressing the rental housing issue in and around the University of Manitoba
- Delivery of City services (maintenance, transit, snow removal) throughout the ward and to Bridgwater and South Pointe
- Development of a new South Winnipeg Recreation Campus
- Improvement of parks and recreation facilities in the Ward
Along with work in the South Winnipeg–St Norbert electoral ward, Mayor Bowman appointed me as the Chair of the Standing Policy Committee on Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works. This role brings much responsibility and enables me to provide input to the City’s ‘big picture’ operations. I could write a thesis on the aspects of this role, but will limit it to saying this: in a City that is over 142 years old, infrastructure renewal and public works initiatives are quite challenging, but hold many opportunities for innovation and new approaches.
With the “big picture” in mind, I have been involved in several roles for the City of Winnipeg:
- Improvement of internal and external communication to enhance customer service
- Improvement of roads, active transportation and traffic calming
- Improvement of Transit and development of Stage 2 Rapid Transit
- Sustainability at Brady Road Resource Management Facility
- Budget planning in my role as Member of the Mayor’s Executive Policy Committee (EPC) With Council and EPC, worked on many City wide initiatives
- Funding for ward initiatives in my role as a Member of the Riel Community Committee
Culture & Change
Currently at City Hall, there are 7 new Councillors, a new Mayor, a new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), a new Chief Operating Officer, as well as multiple new Department Directors. Working in an environment of great change is simultaneously challenging and at times chaotic. Change is what people voted for – change occurred – and with change, comes the need for time to adjust and realign systems and process.
I find people are quick to criticize that change at City Hall isn’t happening fast enough, but acknowledge it is difficult for many to understand the enormity of what is involved in running a billion dollar business while undertaking significant change. And while changing people may be one of the easier variables in the mix, changing culture is far more difficult. People are creatures of habit, and changing habits are not easy. Every style of leadership results in a unique working culture. Turning the dial on the City’s culture and how the organization functions will be one of this Council’s greatest challenges.
Customer Service, Communication & 311
I’ve spoken publicly on this, written on this, and drawn public/media attention on my experiences with the “broken communication system” within the City of Winnipeg. This continues to be my #1 priority to fix as well as my #1 frustration to deal with on a daily basis: SEE HERE
I knew the City’s ability to communicate externally was a major problem before running for office, and am now experiencing the excruciating pain of it every day with internal work. Quite simply, the City of Winnipeg does a poor job communicating: communicating to residents, communication to Councillors, and communicating within departments. In my opinion, the inability to share information is crippling the City’s ability to make timely well informed decisions. The communication breakdown results in monumental inefficiencies in time, money and production. And the ability to attempt to make change in a culture where this has been the norm for the past 10+ years is very difficult. Yes, I admit I’ve worked in private industry all my life and never in a bureaucracy the size of the City of Winnipeg. BUT in today’s age of technology, I struggle with Corporate Services’ ability to deliver on this key aspect of being able to function, to deliver a service, and to enable that very basic yet critical function – to communicate effectively.
Positive change is happening on this front:
- The responsibility of Corporate Communications has been removed from Corporate Services and is now under the responsibility of the CAO,
- A new Communication Director is being hired within weeks,
- The Mayor has set up an office of Public Engagement which leads various public engagement initiatives,
- The Mayor acknowledges improved communication is a priority ,
- The City’s 311 Service is undergoing internal functional changes with the goal to provide better customer service. Since I’ve arrived, I’ve been focused on 311 and have encountered countless roadblocks in attempting to make 311 more functional. There is still the belief that taking 1.5 million phone calls on issues is more cost effective and efficient than using state of the art technology to streamline this task like other Cities do. These and many other communication messages/tools are being discussed. There are still big hurdles to overcome in improving 311 – and they will be overcome – though not fast enough for me.
Councillor Response Time, Volume & Persistence
About three months into my role (by mid-January, 2015), it became clear to me that the existing communication system does not efficiently support a busy Councillor. The functionality of the system does not enable the level of customer service residents expect, that I expect, and that residents in a service oriented business should receive. Stay with me on this, and hopefully it will be clear.
- Basic inquiries for the City can be answered by calling 311 – if you are able to get through on the phone (email is faster and takes seconds) So, many frustrated residents give up on calling 311, and call their Councillor instead.
- If 311 can’t answer the inquiry to the satisfaction of the resident, the residents will then call their Councillor. At this point, the question is often more complex. Often, one resident inquiry will take an additional 6 inquiries from my office to various departments in order to secure an answer and respond to the resident.
South Winnipeg-St Norbert Ward is the second largest ward in the City. With nearly 54,000 residents in the ward, there are many folks calling our office on a broad variety of issues. In fact, our office receives an average of 15 inquiries every day from residents in our ward, which results in the following cycle:
- Flow of Information: 1 resident inquiry = 6 inquiries from my office to follow up
- RARELY are these 6 inquiries answered by the department in the same day. Many times, it takes days or weeks. Frequently, departments have to be reminded to respond to my request for information.
- One Day: 15 inquiries x 6 follow-up inquiries = 90 inquiries each day to gather the necessary information
- One Week: 5 business days x 90 inquiries daily = 450 inquiries each week in order to obtain information and respond to residents.
So, on average: 450 inquiries each week in keeping all aspects of each inquiry organized, and following up as departments from whom we are seeking information don’t respond at all, or don’t provide information in a timely manner. Not all Ward Councillors receive this volume of calls from residents, as they don’t have a ward the size of South Winnipeg–St. Norbert (which is growing daily with Waverley West), but they are all busy trying to function as effectively as they can within the current system.
Each City Councillor is provided with an annual Councillor Ward Allowance, which includes funding for initiatives within the ward as well as an assistant. The assistant is responsible to maintain the Councillor’s schedule of internal and external meetings; organize and attend community meetings in the ward; maintain the Councillor’s website and respond to messages received through social media; prepare and distribute E-Newsletters; prepare financial reports; respond to phone calls, E-Mails and correspondence, and much more! Along with Ward work, I am the Acting Deputy Mayor as well as the Chair of Infrastructure Renewal and Public Works. Both portfolios require research, organization and coordination of project files by my assistant.
It’s no surprise that the turnover rate for Councillors’ assistants is high – I attribute it to the frustration of working in a dysfunctional organization. I and all of South Winnipeg-St Norbert ward are very fortunate to have Bev, a dedicated, organized and efficient ward assistant – who is able to function quite effectively in the current crippled system.
- You can see why it is so important to me to try and get 311 functioning in a more comprehensive manner.
- Hopefully, you understand why sometimes it takes time for me to respond to an inquiry.
- Hopefully, you understand how sometimes inquiries can be missed. It is very important to be persistent. Keep calling, keep emailing.
I apologize for this system that currently exists. I and others are working to change it. I know we will be able to make some great changes to the flow of information and communication. But it will take time.
Are You Having Fun Yet?!
This is a question I am asked almost daily! I respond by saying – “ Well . . . I’m not quite there yet! Ask me in another year!” Being a City Councillor is truly an opportunity of a lifetime that only a very few get to experience: to be able to take a leadership role in making positive change for our City; to represent the residents, to learn, to work with people; and to be exposed to all aspects of society in day to day interactions. This is a unique opportunity and I am humbled by it all. I will do the best I can for the ward and the City in my remaining three years.
If you’ve managed to get to the end of my year in review – I thank you for your time!
And thank you for your patience as I work to improve our City.
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