What does it mean to micromanage?
That was one of the discussions happening during the Monday night Harrison council meeting (Feb. 1), when Coun. Gerry Palmer put forward a new motion to allow council to review three projects if their grant applications were successful.
“We don’t really have an opportunity to delve into the issues or the plans that carefully, because council usually considers the application usually within the week the grant application is due,” Palmer said.
“It doesn’t give us the opportunity to get in very deep or even have opinions on what we’re doing.”
In October 2019, Harrison council approved a grant application to upgrade storm sewer infrastructure on Hot Springs Road and a grant application to finish the Miami River Greenway and create a new walking trail on McCombs Drive. On Jan. 18, council approved a grant application to renovate the Harrison Fire Hall.
Palmer wanted the three particular projects in his motion to come back to council if the grant application is approved, in order to be approved before being submitted for bids.
Other members of council were not so supportive of his idea.
“I think, to be blunt, it’s micromanaging and it’s not within our responsibilities to be in there counting nuts and bolts,” Coun. Samantha Piper said about the motion.
Coun. Michie Vidal agreed, saying that council needed to put some trust in the village staff to complete the project appropriately.
“I could see the potential for some extended delays in getting a project off the ground,” she said.
Mayor Leo Facio also spoke in opposition of Palmer’s motion, saying that council needs to “allow our administration and engineers to do the job that they’re paid to do, to bring forward to us the best report for that particular project and telling us what it’s going to cost. Nobody can predict unknowns.”
Projects that can receive grant funding often need to be approved on a tight timeline so village staff can apply for the grant.
If the grant is awarded, they typically do not come back to council for further discussion unless there is a Request for Proposal that needs to be put out, or there are significant changes to the budget.
Sometimes these projects are part of a master plan or study, and council is able to review them as the plan or study is completed.
Other times, the project is something that is developed on the side of staffers’ desks and is brought forward last minute because of possible funding.
“The system is less than ideal,” CAO Madeline McDonald said. “Money gets announced. Deadlines are quick.”
“We would all like to see more lead time on these projects.”
She shared her concerns that if council begins to re-examine projects after grant approval, Harrison may not be able to get the money.
“If we reopen project for a complete rethink or reconsideration after approval, for one thing, it’s going to undermine the confidence in upper levels of government in considering our proposals,” she said.
Palmer protested the idea that his motion would create excessive delays for projects, although he did not comment on the possibility of it undermining provincial trust in the village, and said the whole goal was to make sure that political decisions were not being made by staff.
“I don’t plan on coming up with opinions on what the correct width of some mechanism in sewer plant is,” he said. “But sometimes it’s not professional advice whether a walkway should be asphalt or gravel or something more environmental.”
Coun. Ray Hooper shared these concerns, specifically with the look of the McCombs walkway.
He wanted to know more about what the path would look like — how wide it was and how it would deal with possible telephone poles — before they had approved the project.
“Unless we get this information, we can’t make the decision,” Hooper said. “Or we make the decision on the barest information that is given.”
Hooper supported Palmer’s motion — unsurprising given his history in council of wanting more details on many of the projects that come forward. Hooper was the one who requested drawings of the fire hall’s proposed seismic upgrade, and had concerns about the geotechnical aspects of construction.
“We need drawings and we need the actual information on exactly what’s involved,” he said. “Otherwise we’re just sticking the pin on a donkey’s tail.”
Vidal agreed that more information would be nice before approving grant-funded projects, but sometimes it just isn’t possible.
“In a perfect world, we would all like to have the opportunity to have more input, especially into our larger projects,” she said. “It’s the provincial government or federal government that sets the parameters and deadlines for grant applications. I’m sure (staff) are kind of walking a tight rope at some times.”
Ultimately the motion was defeated 3-2, with Palmer and Hooper in support.