Spare us the spin

As regular Advertiser readers may know, I have repeatedly used this space in recent years to lambaste local municipal officials for a lack of transparency and honesty despite their ardent espousing of those virtues.

I apologize for sounding like a broken record, but it just keeps happening and we can’t let it go unchecked.

Time and time again, mayors and chief administrative officers (CAOs) in Wellington County try to pull the wool over taxpayers’ eyes with spin, catchphrases, ambiguity, and carefully crafted yet nondescript  “statements.”

Unfortunately many of my rants have taken aim at Town of Erin officials. It’s not personal, of course, but as residents there – and likely throughout the county – know, the leadership at that municipality in recent years has been, to put it nicely, dysfunctional.

Problems in the mayor’s office have been well documented in this Newspaper. And as I wrote in this space just six months ago, the CAO’s office has been reduced to little more than a revolving door since 2012.

Nathan Hyde is Erin’s fourth full-time CAO in five years, and we had hoped, as I’m sure Erin residents had prayed, that his hiring in April would mark a new direction for the town’s top administrative office, particularly in its dealings with councillors, residents and the media.

But for us, Hyde’s announcement last week of a corporate restructuring brought back ghosts of Erin blunders past.

The process itself is not the issue – perhaps it’s just what the municipality needs – but the town dropped the ball in its delivery of the News.

A press release about the so-called “strategic realignment” contained all the usual jargon and buzzwords one would expect, as it claimed the move would “enhance service delivery and streamline operations” and “shift corporate culture” in a “fiscally responsible manner.”

That all sounds great, but what does it mean? Since the press release was devoid of any actual details, other than to state the restructuring affects over 40% of the town’s full-time workforce, our reporter followed up on the issue, as any good journalist would.

Not long into a telephone call with Hyde, a key detail about job losses, an inevitable outcome of nearly every corporate restructuring, was revealed.

In Erin, three people – “service delivery providers” and  not senior staff members, we’re told – have been terminated.

Considering this is a major restructuring of a municipality that employs dozens of people, three “exits from the corporation” (as the CAO branded the cuts), isn’t that bad – except, of course, for those individuals now without a job.

But overall, it’s a tolerable number that reasonable people could understand and accept. So why not be up front from the beginning and include those details in the press release? And why refuse to say from what department the staffers have “exited”?

Furthermore, why stress to our reporter that the CAO doesn’t want the News “couched as terminations for the Town of Erin”?

The facts are the facts.

To be fair, Hyde did offer some helpful information, including the fact that the restructuring reduced seven “layers of staff” to four. But again, when asked for some basic details about what that means for service levels for the average taxpayer, no details were forthcoming.

Posted on the township website around the same time the restructuring was announced were five new job postings at the town, which seemed odd for a restructuring that was claiming to “save taxpayer dollars.”

“We are not increasing the number of permanent full-time staff employed by the town,” Hyde stressed in an email, though he was asked to provide comments by phone.

So what about part-timers? As of press time we were still waiting for a reply to our request for total staff numbers both pre- and post-restructuring.

Yet perhaps most troubling about the town’s job postings is the new position of communications and special projects officer, which will “serve as the first point of contact for all media enquiries.”

We find it outrageous that a municipality of Erin’s size requires a media relations staff member.

 Of course, town officials will claim the move is about improving communication, but those of us in the media business know from experience it’s actually about controlling, filtering and spinning information.

On a positive note, it does help reinforce the importance of having local journalists who can wade through all the nonsense to decipher what matters for taxpayers.

As previously mentioned, in Erin’s case, perhaps a major shakeup is exactly what’s needed to remedy the situation there.

Unfortunately, Erin residents weren’t provided enough information to make that judgment for themselves.