Sustainability key for city manager (column)
London Community News
Is ambition a character flaw in a senior civil servant?
If, like me, you are drawn to those who strive to get ahead and do so strategically, then the new city manager of London is our kind of people.
Art Zuidema describes himself as a guy who “always sees the glass as being half full as opposed to half empty.” And a guy who, realizing the opportunity to really accomplish things was being at the top of his profession, went back to university to add two more degrees to complement one in law.
In an interview at the end of his first week on the job, Mr. Zuidema used the word “opportunity” no less than 12 times to explain why he’d left a secure job with the City of Hamilton to take up the troubled leadership of London’s civic administration.
“When the London opportunity came around – I like London because it’s not Toronto; I’m a small town boy, I grew up in Whitby, so London is more in keeping with the size parameters that I’m comfortable with, I’ve studied here, it’s a beautiful city, it’s a full community, it has industry, it has government, it has wonderful places to live – so the opportunity for me to come to London was just, quite frankly, a home run.”
The opportunity London offers in particular is a chance to run the whole show. Mr. Zuidema spent 21 years working for Hamilton, most recently as its director of corporate initiatives. Over the years he’s worked closely with the city manager.
“I saw the possibilities in terms of working on the staff side and the political side so I made it a goal that I wanted to try in my career to work towards the possibility of being in the city manager’s position,” he said.
Well after volunteer experience with the hospital board and Habitat for Humanity in Hamilton, “I came to the realization that charities have the greatest impact when they work with government. I thought I can have more of an impact in government at a higher level.
“Government has a much wider realm of leaders and ability to stimulate . . . and to get other organizations to tipping points that can result in (forward) movement.”
Although his long Hamilton experience has obviously shaped his view of civic government, Mr. Zuidema says he has an open mind about a critical London issue – zero tax increase.
For him, though, the issue is accomplishments that are sustainable, not simply attainable. To illustrate he offers the example of losing 20 pounds of extra weight.
“If I lost an arm I might lose 20 pounds quickly, but losing an arm for me long-term is not going to be a good thing. Instead, maybe I need a program where I start thinking about what I’m eating.”
So in his view, that’s how city council, working with the administration, needs to approach its budget.
“There will come a time when the cupboard is bare and then council will have to make a policy decision,” he says. “We can get to whatever target they want. The question is, council needs to be informed what it looks like to get to that target and is what it looks like acceptable to them?”
Philip McLeod is a longtime London journalist who writes a regular blog on civic affairs. Email firstname.lastname@example.org.