Sunday, March 23, 2014

Saying Good-bye to a Good Man

Thursday marked the last day of Cliff Skauge's career with the city.  For about the last ten years he was the City Clerk; when I was first elected, he was the Assistant City Clerk.  It's hard to imagine what City Hall will be like without him - for most of us on council, he's always been there, guiding us through our agenda every week.

Cliff understood his job, and the responsibility that goes along with it.  He was the one who had to guide council through the correct procedures, so that whatever we did was done legally.  He understood the importance of following process, even though some members of council did not appreciate his assistance, preferring doing things their way rather than doing things right.  Explaining that when you are a democratically elected government, you have to follow rules that don't necessarily apply when you're running your own business, must have been something that he got tired of explaining, but he seemed to have infinite patience, even with veteran councillors who had heard the message over and over, but still thought that they could take short-cuts.

In fourteen years, I never heard Cliff raise his voice.  I've never seen him angry.  I have seen him get frustrated, usually when his repeated respectful reminders of the need to follow process were being ignored.  But he carried on, and was always willing to answer questions and accept suggestions.

For the last election, he coordinated the preparation of an excellent voters' guide that was distributed to all households in the city.  If you recall, the last election featured changes in ward boundaries that had to be explained, as well as changes in the requirements for voters, particularly the requirement to bring proper identification to the polls, and he put it all together in an easy to understand document.  He also coordinated the first ever election results on-line, so that people only had to log into the city web-site to find out the results.  These are background things that contributed greatly to the smooth running of the election, and I'm not sure that people truly appreciate how important these background things are.

What I will most remember about Cliff is how he treated all members of council with respect, both inside and outside council chambers, whether rookie or veteran.  Whenever he had to call me for a council matter, he always apologized for disturbing me at home, even though he had no other option.

And there was a time, with previous councils, when I was not exactly in the inner circle, as it were.  I used to joke that if I dropped into a staff member's office with a question, they would probably get in trouble for talking to me.  During this time, Andrea and I were at a fund-raising pancake breakfast, as were other members of council.  Andrea and I were sitting alone; Cliff came over and asked if he could join us, and we had a very enjoyable breakfast together.  This small gesture of kindness when I was reminded frequently by the actions of my colleagues that I was an outsider, speaks volumes about the kind of man that he was.

All of us who work for the city, in whatever capacity, would do well to emulate his practice of working hard, understanding his job, and treating people with respect and kindness.  He led by example, in the truest sense of the word, and I will miss seeing him set that example every Monday evening.

"People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." - Maya Angelou

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