From now on District of Houston council, chief administrative officer (CAO) and other municipal staff will have a clear set of rules for their interactions.
Council has recently adopted a new protocol policy, which, according to Houston’s CAO Gerald Pinchbeck, is intended to formalize their relationships.
The district currently operates under a council-CAO model of local government. Under this model, council hires one employee - the CAO - who is the sole official link between council and municipal staff, and is responsible for the overall management of the operations of the municipality.
The new policy establishes that the performance of the municipality is synonymous with the performance of the CAO.
Pinchbeck’s performance will be measured each year based on the level to which the municipality has achieved the goals of council’s strategic plan. This performance review will be conducted by Nov. 30 of each year.
Pinchbeck officially became Houston’s CAO on Jan. 10, 2018 after holding the position of corporate services officer for almost two years.
According to the new protocol policy, individual council members may contact the municipal office with requests for service; however, they will be treated as members of the public when doing so.
“Individual members should have no expectation of a higher level of service than that afforded to any other member of the public by the sole nature of their position,” states the policy.
Individual council members must also abide by the principle of “non-interference” in the duties of municipal staff.
“Individual council members do not give direction to staff to perform specific duties, and [staff] must not be held accountable for not carrying out a request from an individual council member,” states the policy.
“Staff do their best to accommodate information requests from individual council members; however, if such requests, in the opinion of the CAO, require appreciable expenditure of resources, are onerous or inappropriate, the individual member must refer the request to council for direction.”
The new protocol policy establishes that the CAO serves council only as a whole.
“Individual members of council do not direct the CAO,” states the policy. “The CAO does his best to accommodate requests from individual members; however, if these requests are, in the opinion of the CAO, onerous or inappropriate, the requests should be referred to council by the individual member for direction.”
The CAO also advises council on matters of policy. These recommendations should be based on professional advice and measurable data.
“At no time does the CAO attempt to undermine council’s right to make policy decisions by withholding information or misrepresenting facts,” states the policy.
According to the new protocol policy, it is the chief administrative officer’s sole authority to delegate tasks to municipal staff, including tasks which have been set out in a resolution of council.
However, municipal staff must be provided “reasonable access” to council when exercising their statutory employment and human rights, including but not limited to matters such as dispute resolution, whistleblowing, harassment or misconduct allegations.