Imagine, if you will, that Sir Humphrey Appleby, the comically manipulative civil servant played by Nigel Hawthorne in the British television series, Yes, Minister, gave up his behind-the-scenes maneuvering to be elected to government.
It would be very bad news for any civil servant who tried to do what he used to, namely pulling the wool over the eyes of elected politicians who are supposedly his masters.
No one is better qualified to understand the machinations of the public service than a former public servant. While he may be a far cry from Sir Humphrey, it should come as no surprise that the newly elected mayor of White Rock, Wayne Baldwin, is closely interested in the way city staff follows procedure, considering he served 23 years as city manager before he retired in 2006.
Baldwin has been openly critical of the way the previous mayor and council approved the funding of new lights and arches for the city's famous pier last fall, saying it was "poorly processed."
Staff, Baldwin said, resurrected a project that had failed to win budget approval by suddenly turning it into what he called an "alleged" safety issue. The result, he said, was that construction proceeded on an "unrealistically tight" timeline.
Baldwin has warned that, in future, staff will be expected to follow – "strictly" – tendering procedures, which require more advance notice.As Baldwin made his remarks, the man who got the pier overhaul approved, director of engineering and municipal operations Rob Thompson, sat mum without making any attempt to defend his actions, because he isn't allowed to.
That is something the mayor should recognize, as Coun. Al Campbell pointed out in an email last week to Peace Arch News.
"I was surprised that Mayor Baldwin criticized staff in public, especially given his staff experience," Campbell said. "It is one thing to criticize council as part of the political fray because we can respond, staff cannot."
The new mayor has also served notice that he will be taking a hard look at the system of committees set up to give advice to the mayor and councillors, with a view to making the system more efficient by eliminating some and restricting others.
Whether watching White Rock council meeting live or as recorded on community television, it might just be an interesting year to stay tuned.