Musical chairs at council in hopes for new harmony...and better 'optics'
Empty chairs on either side of Mayor Greg Granstrom at Monday’s council meeting left him noticeably isolated. Previously, the Corporate Officer (CO) would sit on his left and the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) on his right, but now the CO and CAO will sit in the staff corner of the chamber, opposite the media’s corner and in front of the public gallery.
The meeting was the first for new CAO Cecile Arnott since the resignation of former CAO Victor Kumar. Kumar’s employment was marked by several decisions that seemed (to some observers) to bypass council and public consultation, and he appeared to coerce other council decisions.
In the past, the staff table has only been occupied by other senior staff—the manager of planning and the manager of operations, depending on whether their attendance is needed for a particular meeting—and city consultants.
Granstrom said, “Before we get into the agenda, you may have noticed that staff are sitting at that table. Prior to calling the meeting, I’m just going to read: ‘Staff have highlighted that the perception of the role of council and staff may be misinterpreted by the positioning of staff at the council table.'”
“Optics,” Granstrom commented. “So we’re all aware that we’ve had these discussions before, but we never made the change. So we have moved staff to there to make it more reflective of how decisions are made in council: we are the council, and there are our resources there.”
Granstrom began to read again: “Our new CAO and CO have asked council to review the new seating arrangements to better reflect the roles of staff and council.”
“So please,” Granstrom asked the councillors, “over the next week or so, provide input on how you see this. I think our goal is to improve the optics of how decisions are made.”