District staffing issues under scrutiny

Council's role is to govern the district, not act as administrator: Nundal

Not every council member believes there is a problem at municipal hall with staff departures, but all have agreed to look into hiring a consultant to examine the issue.

Earlier this month, The Record reported 34 full-time employees, including nine senior managers, have resigned from their positions at the district in the past two and a half years, while 13 have retired.

Last week Coun. Nelson Tilbury said he believes staff are leaving because of “micromanaging from the CAO (chief administrative officer) and bullying and berating from council.”

At a committee of the whole meeting on Monday, Tilbury made a motion directing staff to research the cost, and propose terms of reference for an external consultant to examine and evaluate staffing issues and the operational capabilities at the district.

“I’m not comfortable with statements saying (staff departures) are not a problem,” said Tilbury, referring to comments made from other councillors.

“I want to … hire a consultant to do an evaluation of staffing at city hall and just see what the general morale is. This should be a good place to work.”

Tilbury only managed to add the item to the agenda Monday afternoon after a half hour discussion on late items.

Mayor Ted Adlem said that according to council’s procedural bylaw, any councillor who wants to add an item to the agenda must do so in writing in advance of the meeting. Tilbury and Coun. Jenny Stevens argued the policy has never been enforced before, and Coun. Jewell noted the purpose of adopting the agenda at the beginning of a meeting is to allow changes. Coun. Tony Luck said he was not aware of the policy either.

Couns. Dave Hensman and Larry Nundal concurred with the mayor.

“I can’t make decisions without knowing the background,” said Nundal, who argued the issue should have been discussed in-camera (closed meeting) because it relates to employees.

“I’m a little annoyed because this keeps coming up … This is getting nasty.”

Nundal, who threatened to walk out of the meeting, said council’s role is to govern the district, not to act as the administrator.

“I’m not going to put the CAO on the hot seat.”

Tilbury responded that this was brought forward because some have said there is nothing wrong.

“We’re not assigning blame.”

Stevens and Jewell also believed the issue should be discussed in public because, according to Stevens, “it’s fruitless to hide behind closed doors.

“This has become a mess in the public realm. I think the public needs to see council is aware of the issues and will deal with them.”

Jewell added, “This is being dealt with in the public and we’re all being watched. What is the truth and what are we doing about the situation?”

“We need to fix something that’s broken,” agreed Coun. Tony Luck. “If it’s not broken it wouldn’t be in the media. We need to fix relationships with staff.”

Hensman countered, “This council needs to take full responsibility for what we asked the CAO to do. I don’t want to see our CAO hung out to dry, or lynched.”

Mission is in the middle of being restructured, and the evaluation should be based on what council instructed, he said.

Mayor Ted Adlem said he’s surprised more people haven’t left because of the changes that council has made.

“Change is a hard thing. If there is an issue, it was generated by elected officials,” noted Adlem.

Jewell agreed council should be accountable, and some amount of change is normal, but believes the amount of turnover is high. He also wanted to know what the district has lost in terms of experience and how long it would take to rebuild.

While the information would be of “academic interest,” Stevens said it would be difficult to evaluate.

CAO Ken Bjorgaard suggested organizing a workshop for council to discuss the terms of reference, but the idea was rejected because it would put off any action.