Surviving Government – Four Seasons of Political Disarray – Hendrik Slegtenhorst (2017)

Surviving Government, a book in 27 chapters and 246 pages in length, describes four seasons of political disarray, through technical and personal commentaries from an inadvertent town manager.

Publication is scheduled for the summer of 2017.

The book presents an understanding of local government for the individual citizen, and how each citizen can influence, modify, and survive the decisions, actions, and effects of government.

The work is in four parts, organized by each of the four seasons, and concentrating on four aspects of government: its powers, its functions, taxation, and political integrity.

Its purpose is to provide an overview of the impact of public service, and the difficulty, but not the impossibility, of progress in a political context, with illustrations, some technical and some biographical, of how meaningful progress can be achieved, and what value such progress has for citizens and their community.

To achieve this, the policy, legislative, and technical aspects, in essay form, are counterpointed against a year of personal observations, in order to render the political and operational undertakings relevant in terms of the human realities of each day—through the device of personal journals.

The journals document a narrative of engagement as a town manager in a medium-sized town in the Maritimes, being the consequence of financial reality, the intent to continue to fulfill a lifelong plan to experience as many regions of Canada as possible by working and living in them, and my deliberate participation in the advancement of community through social contribution.

St . Stephen Town Hall. 8 October 2006. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

St . Stephen Town Hall. 8 October 2006. (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

For over three years, then, I lived in a town called St. Stephen in the extreme southwest corner of the Canadian province of New Brunswick, on the east shore of the tidal headwaters of the St. Croix River, which flows into Passamaquoddy Bay on the Bay of Fundy, and which is part of the international boundary between Canada and the United States. If I walked a block from my heritage house on Elm Street and reached the corner of Union and Cove, I could see the rapids of the St. Croix River, whose far bank is the United States of America, the state of Maine, the city of Calais.

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St. Stephen Wharf on the St. Croix river, the United States the Opposite Bank, 10 June 2008 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

I was recruited from my practice and business as an artist in Vancouver into executive management in public administration. My background included senior management of post-secondary education, executive management of heritage institutions, and corporate appointments in project management, information technology, human resources, compensation, and training at transnationals.

For the greater part of the succeeding seven years I served as a Chief Administrative Officer in municipal government, as well as a director on boards of governance, particularly those dealing with regional economic development (such as the funding and building of a $20 millions’ civic centre in St. Stephen), in New Brunswick, British Columbia, and Alberta. Concurrently, I have also worked as a development officer, community emergency preparedness director (including during the Slave Lake wildfires), director of human resources, legislative services officer, and clerk to council, committees, and boards.

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My fine house in St. Stephen, NB, 28 February 2008 (Photo: Hendrik Slegtenhorst)

My sustaining interests are literature, music, and the arts; the natural environment and the urban landscape; and, the realization of community identity, aspirations, and needs—the latter, in part, the source of my preoccupation with the benefits and detriments of politics.

Part One, “Winter and the Powers of Government,” reviews Canadian democracy, provides a portrait of a small town, and discusses federalism, limitations of power, local government autonomy, and the nature of municipal policy and operations.

Part Two, “Spring and the Functions of Government,” contains chapters on strategic planning, performance management, public services, traditional and new public management, policy implications, program evaluation, policy communities, the RCMP, firefighting, bylaws and resolutions, zoning, expropriation, collective bargaining, human resources, telecommuting, and privacy and access to information.

Part Three, “Summer and Taxation,” considers the nature of taxes, the meanings and components of municipal budgets, municipal and non-profit fund accounting, expenditures and their consequences, revenue generation, transfer payments, the property tax, property assessment, property tax relief, alternative service delivery, contracting out, life-cycle costing, and differential business taxation.

Part Four, “Autumn and Political Integrity,” discusses homelessness, population growth and demographics, citizen engagement, civic buildings, citizen consultation, amalgamation, heritage preservation, civic journalism, the accountabilities of the senior administrator, abuse of political power, and leadership.

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