Do Municipal Administrators Owe the Public Legal Duties?

A recent decision from Saskatchewan’s Court of King’s Bench provides important findings regarding the duties of municipal administrators and city managers.

In Andrews and Stratton v Anderson, 2022 SKKB 270, a city councillor and ratepayer sought an order of mandamus to compel the Regina city manager to include funding to solve homelessness in the proposed 2023 budget. A mandamus writ is an order issued to a lower court or government entity to carry out a ministerial function.

The court proceedings stemmed from a Regina City Council motion directing city administration to include draft funding to address homelessness as a separate line item in the proposed 2023 budget.

Funding Wasn’t Included As a Line Item

The proposed budget presented by the city manager included draft funding to address homelessness in the budget book but did not include the funding as line item within the actual proposed budget, which ostensibly contravened the earlier council motion.

The day after the city manager presented the proposed budget to council, a city councillor and ratepayer applied to the Saskatchewan Court of King’s Bench for a mandamus writ to compel the city manager to include $24.9 million as a line item in the proposed budget.

Mandamus Test Was Not Met

Justice Morrall dismissed the application, finding that the test for mandamus had not been met,  concluding that:

  • The city manager did not owe a public legal duty in regard to the preparation of the proposed budget.
  • The duties owed by the city manager are owed to council as a whole and not to any individual ratepayer or member of council.
  • The applicants did not have a clear right to performance of the alleged duty because there was no evidence of a demand for performance and subsequent refusal.
  • The decision not to include the draft funding was a discretionary decision. The city manager exercised her discretion in good faith and based on relevant considerations, including financial well-being of the city.
  • The applicants did not exhaust all other available remedies before seeking the extraordinary remedy of mandamus.
  • There was insufficient practical value in granting the order because only council can determine the contents of the final budget.

Key Takeaways

The case offers instructive insights on whether the employment duties of a municipal administrator can give rise to a public legal duty attracting the possibility of judicial intervention in the form of mandamus. In this instance, the Court determined the city manager’s duties regarding the preparation of the proposed budget were not public legal duties.

The case also provides an important caution about using judicial remedies such as mandamus to address political issues. As articulated by Justice Morrall:

“However, I find the court should be quite leery of being involved in the political machinations and debates between members of municipal, provincial or federal decision-making bodies. While establishing goalposts can be part of the court’s gatekeeping function, the remedy of mandamus is a blunt tool and must be used equitably and appropriately.”

MLT Aikins lawyers Milad Alishahi and Shawna Sparrow were pleased to act as counsel to Regina’s city manager in this case. The lawyers in our Municipal practice group have wide-ranging experience advising municipalities across Western Canada. Contact us to learn more.

Note: This article is of a general nature only and is not exhaustive of all possible legal rights or remedies. In addition, laws may change over time and should be interpreted only in the context of particular circumstances such that these materials are not intended to be relied upon or taken as legal advice or opinion. Readers should consult a legal professional for specific advice in any particular situation.