Fasten your seatbelts

Ron Bolin: July 11, 2013

In less than two months the City of Nanaimo has lost the holders of two of its three positions mandated in the Community Charter:  the City Manager and the Corporate Officer; and three of the holders of the Officer positions named by City Bylaw: namely City Manager Al Kenning and Corporate Officer Tracy Samra, holders of Offices mandated by the Community Charter and in addition the Manager of Corporate Services, Doug Holmes.

Ms. Samra was last seen in mid-March though she has been said to be on leave until last week.  To the best of my knowledge her absence has not yet been reported by the City (where is our Communications Officer?), and I have not seen an ad to fill this mandated position.   Mr. Holmes departed at the end of May under conditions which have not been made clear.  And Mr. Kenning gave notice yesterday of his retirement on September 3 of this year.   This gave the City 40 working days’ notice-minus any public holidays and ignoring the seven weeks a year of holiday to which he is entitled- to find a replacement.  I find it peculiar if the most senior Manager in the City can leave on such short notice.  What kind of contracts do we have?  It is certainly a slap in the face to Council and to the citizens of Nanaimo.

At the same time, in the day and age of the internet and with numerous websites devoted to municipal employment in Canada, plus the fact that the City could run for some time with a designate in place, Council has also slapped citizens in the face with another back room in camera  time appointment.  I wish Mr. Swabey well, but suspect that he cannot feel particularly honoured by an appointment to a position which had no competition.

It was announced with Mr. Holmes departure that his position would not be replaced and that his workload would be distributed to other Managers or Directors.  One must wonder whether the workload which he carried and cost taxpayers an all-in 2012 cost (salary + benefits + expenses) of roughly $225,000 dollars is so easily dispersed to others in the administration.  Either the job was inordinately well paid for the work provided, and/or those who picked up the extra work, do so at little additional cost as the City’s Press Release noted a savings of $170,000 with his departure.

The departure of Ms. Samra leaves a hole in the City which is filled with Deputies who have no Corporate Officer to whom they report.  It must be remembered that the position of Corporate Officer carries with it obligations to the public under the Community Charter which go beyond the simple confines of the City Administration.  We currently have no Manager of Legislative Services.  Nor has her departure been, to the best of my knowledge, officially recognized, nor have I seen an advertisement for a replacement.  This leaves the Manager of Legislative Services position vacant as well as that of the Corporate Officer.

To top off this stream of alarming news a look at the City’s bidding opportunities shows a recently closed competition for:


Respectful Workplace Training Program

ISSUED: June 11 2013

The purpose of this request for proposal is to select a qualified consultant to provide external assistance in desigining (sic) and delivering a Respectful Workplace training program to support the City’s commitment in maintaining a positive work environment that embraces diversity and treats everyone with courtesy, dignity and fairness.”

I don’t know about you, but to me this says that there is a serious problem in City Hall administration.  Such problems, if wide spread, are the result of an organizational culture which needs serious review from the inside, not training from the outside.  Conditions need to change and the onus for this change is internal.  It is a sign of leadership failure, not of employee ignorance.  The problems raised by this contract can be much more costly than a few top management positions –though these are problematic enough.  It raises the specter of talented and hardworking staff leaving the City in order to leave a toxic environment behind.  The laggards are, of course, in for the duration.  The problem is not primarily with the staff but with the corporate environment.  Will Mr. Swabey, having spent years in our current environment, be capable of bringing a fresh look at the problems of City Hall?  Will he be able to modify the environment and take a fresh look at our problems?  I wish him well.