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View from the Cordillera

A Commentary on Achieving Excellence in Local Government
Read by Municipal Leaders on 4 Continents
Published by the Cordillera Institute
Structuring Local Government
What Is the Optimum Size of a Municipality? (Vol. 1, Issue 35)
Some form of government has been around for as long as mankind has lived in communities.  As those communities evolved from wandering bands of hunter-gatherers to permanent agricultural or other resource-based settlements, the nature of local government also changed.  Besides being the 1st governments, local governments were usually far ahead of their upper-tier counterparts in broadening the participation in government by community residents.  At the beginning of the 19th century, the levels of participation in local government that we know today were beginning to appear.  By the end of that century, they were evident in many jurisdictions.  First, annexation (with its hints of conquest) then, amalgamation (with its hints of forced alliances) snuffed out local government in the affected communities.  By the end of the 20th century, this damage had spread from the cities to the rural areas.  With all that history in mind, we see why local government should serve a single community and what its optimum size should be.  Then, we look at what makes real local government so special.  Our investigation closes with some thoughts for the skeptical.
How Does Internal Structure Influence Accountability? (Vol. 2, Issue 28)
This issue is part 1 of our 4-part series on the structure of local government.  In several past issues, the subject of local-government structure has been raised.  The context has been to comment on how our states and provinces have changed – or are trying to change – the structure of local government.  But, that's the external aspect of structure – how many there are; what size they are; and how many tiers there are.  In this issue, we focus on the internal aspect of structure – how our local-government organizations are structured.  Since we assess all issues from the perspective of whether they will take us closer to – or further from – achieving excellence, it's important to know how excellence is defined.  Then, starting with the accountability component of excellence, each key factor of structure is tested for its influence on 3 measures of accountability – simplicity, accessibility, and acceptance of responsibility.  Based on the results of this review, this issue concludes with recommendations for adjusting the structure of your organization to improve accountability.
How Does Internal Structure Influence Productivity? (Vol. 2, Issue 29)
This issue is part 2 of our 4-part series on the structure of local government.  Having looked at the role played by the internal structure of organizations in promoting accountability, this issue examines how it contributes to promoting the other half of excellence – productivity.  What is productivity?  What about the persistent myth that measuring productivity favors management over employees?  Why is win-win so crucial to success?  How does internal structure influence productivity?  Following a process similar to that used to examine accountability, we identify the key elements of productivity and see how each is influenced by internal structure.  When that analysis is complete, we note how you can adjust the internal structure of your organization to improve your productivity.  To test our findings, we review what can be learned from experience in the private sector.  And, that takes us to the bottom line.  By applying the results, you can give your organization a head-start on the journey to excellence and increase, considerably, the probability of successfully completing that journey.
How Does External Structure Influence Productivity? (Vol. 2, Issue 30)
This issue is part 3 of our 4-part series on the structure of local government.  How does external structure influence productivity?  Over the past several decades, a number of senior governments have used the bigger-is-better paradigm to justify merging 100s of municipalities out of existence.  Some of these initiatives began when the private sector was already dismantling most of its conglomerates.  And, some began after the conglomerate had become an endangered species.  If bigger-is-better was the real reason for these municipal mergers, how did their advocates miss the lessons from the private sector?  Having seen what doesn't work, we begin our examination of what does.  The external aspect of structure refers to its political and geographic features.  In this issue, we consider the 3 most important.  Then, we see what it is that drives almost all productivity improvement – and why it must be win-win.  Next, we assess how each element of external structure influences first efficiency, then effectiveness.  The results of these assessments point us towards the external structure which maximizes productivity improvement – a key requirement for achieving excellence in local government.
How Does External Structure Influence Accountability? (Vol. 2, Issue 31)
This issue is part 4 of our 4-part series on the structure of local government.  A lunch with a long-time colleague yielded a provocative recommendation on how best to promote accountability in local government.  It also contributed further examples of why municipal mergers show poor results.  Which government would you expect to be more accountable – a small village or the federal government?  To see why, we examine how external structure influences 3 key elements of accountability.  At the conclusion of that assessment, recommendations are offered on how local government should be structured to promote accountability.  When Alexis de Toqueville conducted his exhaustive study of democracy in America, he concluded that a fundamental element of its success was the township system of government.  If we ignore his advice, we run the risk of reducing accountability, opening the door for those who operate from government first, and leaving us with local government in name only.
Should We Have Upper-Tier Local Governments? (Vol. 2, Issue 15)
In many jurisdictions, there are 2 tiers of local government – upper and lower.  The lower tier or local municipalities are the townships, villages, towns, boroughs, and cities.  Upper-tier municipalities are those which consist of 2 or more lower-tier municipalities.  The most common example is the county.  But, they may have other names including regions, districts, or shires.  And, there are many more local-government agencies which may be defined as upper-tier since their territory corresponds to that of an upper-tier municipality or covers the territory of all or parts of 2 or more local municipalities.  These include a host of single-purpose organizations such as school boards, judicial districts, utility commissions, conservation authorities, transit commissions, and planning boards, to name but a few.  In this issue, we examine the varying characteristics of upper-tier local governments to see which – if any – best advance the achievement of excellence in local government.  From there, we move to an identification of the 4 major benefits and 7 potential problems.  Using the analysis of the pros and cons as a guide, this issue offers 4 key criteria to answer the question it poses – for any upper-tier local government.
Local Government in the Land of the Midnight Sun (part 1) (Vol. 3, Issue 28)
Some 44 years ago, I boarded the Coast Guard Ship C.D. Howe in Montreal.  This was the beginning of a 2-month trip to a part of Canada that fewer than 1 in 10,000 Canadians had ever visited.  We were off to the eastern Arctic.  This commentary opens with a review of the beginnings of government in Canada's north, followed by some key changes in jurisdiction that occurred before the year of our trip.  Then, we examine a snapshot of the eastern Arctic taken in the summer of 1964.  It starts with the status of local government.  Next, it covers where we went, including the communities bordering Hudson Strait, those above the Arctic Circle, and those along the east coast of Baffin Island.  It concludes with an overview of the nature of those communities and the services provided.  This commentary is the 'before' picture.  It sets the stage for the 'after' picture – after the coming of local government – which we cover in the next issue.
Local Government in the Land of the Midnight Sun (part 2) (Vol. 3, Issue 29)
In the previous issue, we saw a snapshot of Canada's eastern Arctic, taken on a 2-month trip in the summer of 1964.  Whenever I recall that summer, my mind is filled with memories of the warmth of the people we met and the beauty of the land they inhabit.  In this issue, we advance the clock 44 years to the present.  That span of time has seen some major changes in the communities we visited all those years ago.  Many now have their own local governments as well as basic hard services.  The way of life for the people living in those communities has changed as well – profoundly.  We examine some of the highlights including the remarkably rapid progress towards self-government.  The commentary concludes with a look ahead and some thoughts on how this experience applies to local governments in your part of the world.
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VFC Catalog
To assist you in finding the issues of most interest to you, the VFC catalog groups them by major subject.  Each major subject has its own page in the catalog.  On each catalog page, you will find 1 or more summaries of the issues which relate to that major subject.  For your convenience when ordering, each summary title is followed by its volume and issue number.  To see the summaries on any of the major subjects, just click on its heading in the list below.
Achieving Sustainable Local Government
Characteristics of Good Government
Structuring Local Government
Assessing Policy Proposals
Paradigms of Leadership
Choosing Our Elected Officials
Building a Win-Win Organization
Accomplishing Your Objectives
Measuring Your Performance
Improving Your Productivity
Managing Your Finances
Relating to the Public
Relating to Senior Government
Growing a Robust Economy
Planning for the Future of Your Community
Moving People and Goods
Delivering Services
Reforming Social Programs
Improving Our Environment
Responding to Crises
What Can We Learn from ...?
Special Issues
Recent VFC Commentaries
Below are links to summaries of recent VFC commentaries.  To read a summary, just click on its title in the list below.
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 1)
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 2)
High Noon at the Statehouse (part 3)
Will It Be Bailouts or Bankruptcies? (part 1)
Will It Be Bailouts or Bankruptcies? (part 2)
Local-Government Reform (part 1)
Local-Government Reform (part 2)
Local-Government Reform (part 3)
Local-Government Reform (part 4)
Local-Government Reform (part 5)
Local-Government Reform (part 6)
What Can We Learn from ... the Plight of Jamaica?
Smart Growth and the Ideal City
In Praise of Smaller Municipalities
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 1)
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 2)
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 3)
The Health-Care Dilemma (part 4)
What Is Excellence?  And, How Can We Achieve It?
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