A key responsibility of an organization’s Board of Directors is to ensure that the mission, vision and values of the organization are pursued and honoured in the conduct of the organization’s work. I work with Boards of Directors across Canada and provide training on good governance. Given this experience and considering the public antics of the Board for the Hamilton Police Services, I would assign it a grade of D-.
The vision of the Hamilton Police Services is to be the best, progressive police service. The actions of the Board, its Chair, and members of the Board are far from “best” and “progressive”. It is difficult to have confidence in this vision when it seems that the Board can’t seem to govern itself out of a paper bag. The Hamilton Police Services Board is a classic case of failure of governance. The Chair seems to struggle in her position, Board members behaviours demonstrate conflict and frustration, and the Police Chief seems to enjoy having a tense relationship with Council – the primary funder for the police services. When governance fails, the organization and its stakeholders bear the consequence.
The community needs a police services organization that can be trusted to perform effectively with competency in a manner that has integrity and transparency while demonstrating accountability to the stakeholders. The behaviours of the Hamilton Police Services Board and its leaders have not met this standard. This does not establish the appropriate context for the men and women who are working diligently to protect the community. Often members of an organization emulate the behaviours of their leaders – let’s hope that doesn’t happen here. The values of the Hamilton Police Services spell R.E.S.P.E.C.T. but the Board’s actions and that of its leaders seem to do anything but. The Police Services Board allowed an acrimonious relationship to build between itself and City Council over the police budget request. But why? The interests of Council and the Police Services Board should align. Council is responsible to the citizens of Hamilton and is keen that citizens receive the vast array of services needed to provide for a safe and proud community while also being affordable to the citizens.
The Police Services Board focuses on one of those services. Why have a public fight with Council? The conduct of the Police Services Board during the budget process for 2013 seemed to be focused on ignoring the fiscal realities. There was a lack of progressive or innovative discussions to find mutually beneficial solutions. The modus operandi seemed to be argumentative in a public manner – focusing on win/ lose rather than win/win. Sure an organization should stand up for what it believes in but it also needs to understand and appreciate the other perspectives of the community. In the 2011 annual report, the Chair stated “the Board’s budget process is about ensuring community safety with fiscal responsibility.” What does the Chair define as fiscal responsibility? City Council had expressed to all services the need to hold budgets given the economic challenges. Proposing a 5.25% increase in its $144 million police services budget was irresponsible and disrespectful particularly as other equally important services were holding budget requests in line.
Using the idea of being progressive, was it really not possible to find some economies in a $144 million budget in order to hold the budget and respect the broader issues of the community? Here is one small idea – when the 7 person Police Services Board meets, there are 18 staff in attendance including deputy chiefs, superintendents, and other staff. How about trimming the number of people being paid to sit idly in a Board meeting? It is part of the Chair’s responsibility and a demonstration of respect for accountability to be receptive to the media’s enquiries. The media reflects the voice of the public and is many times the forum through which the public has questions posed and answered. Not being available to the press means not being available to the public. A letter to the Hamilton Spectator printed in January 2013 pointed out that the Chair stated “…my job is to support the chief.” Actually the job of the Chair and that of the Board is to hold the Chief accountable to agreed upon performance standards. The Chief has a $144 million budget to support him.
Over the past few months, a Board member has resigned; another was suspended, followed by an embarrassing episode in trying to replace the suspended Board member. It appears that the suspension for the one Board member was unexpected. Was there not a respectful due process where there is dialogue with the alleged offending party, and warnings? If the Board member had exhibited behaviours not aligned with the values of the organization and/or made unacceptable comments, did the Chair appropriately deal with the behaviour at the time? Was the Board member reminded of his duty to abide by certain protocol and behaviours? Was the Board member clearly informed of the repercussions if such behaviours continued? Why would the Board member unexpectedly receive a letter and a suspension? City Council took action to replace the Board member who was suspended. Then in spite of two separate legal opinions stating that Council’s actions were appropriate the Chair hid behind a communication that is cited on the Board’s website stating that the action to replace the Board member was “unlawful.” This from an organization which has the mandate to uphold the law is actually stating that an action taken by Council was “unlawful.” Interesting choice of words – not a great way to build meaningful respectful relationships.
The Police Services Board has been a failure – its conduct has been amateurish and it should be embarrassed for the tone and atmosphere which it allowed to develop. I suggest the Board spend some time reviewing mission, vision and values. Using the Police Services R.E.S.P.E.C.T. values, I suggest the following for the Board to adopt: • Relentless pursuit of good governance • Education of Board members on governance and stakeholder accountability • Sensitivity of the Board to all stakeholders • Performing governance responsibilities with integrity • Equitable treatment for participants – Board, Staff, Council • Commitment to performing governance duties fully • Teamwork with stakeholders including members of service, community, Council.
Governance is not difficult – it only takes a commitment to learn what it involves and to be diligence in its execution. To do less is irresponsible, disrespectful to the organization and its stakeholder
By: Fay Booker