A Mission councillor is concerned business at the district is slowing down because of recent staff departures, which he says are related to “bullying and berating” by council.
“It’s affecting the district in a lot bigger ways than they let out to be,” said Coun. Nelson Tilbury, who flagged the issue after Coun. Dave Hensman questioned last week’s Mission Record article revealing that nine senior managers have left the District of Mission in the past two and a half years.
Mayor Ted Adlem maintains the district is not understaffed, and that chief administrative officer (CAO) Ken Bjorgaard has been tasked with restructuring staff.
If people have a resistance to change, it’s better for the organization that they leave, said Adlem.
A total of 34 full-time employees resigned their positions between 2012 and March 3 of this year, while 13 have retired. Between 2009 to 2011, 28 full-time employees resigned, while 12 retired.
The turnovers have caught the attention of at least three councillors, including Tilbury, Jeff Jewell and Tony Luck. Last week, Jewell labelled the staff departures as “excessive,” while Luck called the situation “abnormal.”
But Hensman says a report he received from Bjorgaard doesn’t show an increase in departures or an “alarming trend.”
“This weird fantasy that there’s more staff leaving the District of Mission as has done in previous years was an absolute surprise to me when I looked at the facts that our CAO gave us,” said Hensman at Monday night’s council meeting.
After the meeting, Tilbury criticized Hensman, who was the last to speak, for making a political statement during a time reserved for councillors to report on their involvement on committees, boards and activities around the community.
Tilbury says the loss of top people at the district will put Mission behind for years.
“It takes two or three years for a person to move into position and become familiar with it,” said Tilbury. “There are things you do that you’re unique to and have good knowledge about. We have temporary people replacing these people.”
Projects fall behind, he added, and pointed to water main replacement work as an example.
Last December, the district awarded the project to the lowest bidder, but some council members criticized the length of time it took to get to the tendering phase. Council had expected the project to be finished by the end of 2013, but Mission’s manager of engineering services explained at the time there was a lack of in-house expertise and staff shortages.
Mission’s engineering department is one of the hardest hit by staff departures, with the recent resignations of its director, manager of assets and infrastructure, works inspector, a technician and a clerk.
Six of the engineering department’s 16 positions are vacant, according to statistics from the district. Two contractors have been brought in to fill the roles of director and project engineer until permanent staff is hired.
It’s difficult to find qualified engineers for Mission because there is a shortage Canada-wide, said Bjorgaard, who is considering bringing in a recruiter for the process. “We’re never in a hurry to make a decision.”
Tilbury told The Record he has conducted exit interviews with almost everyone who has left municipal hall and believes staff are leaving because of “micromanaging from the CAO, and bullying and berating from council.”
Tilbury noted he had personally experienced poor treatment from fellow members of council, such as when he was removed as the council liaison to the Mission Downtown Business Association earlier this year without consultation.
Two former Mission managers contacted by The Record spoke on condition that they not be identified and confirmed that micromanagement made them unable to make decisions and that was one of the reasons for their departure.
“In my opinion, employees left because they don’t like the atmosphere,” said Tilbury.
Hensman defended Mission’s CAO and praised Bjorgaard for “re-tooling” an organization based on council’s request.
Adlem added, “Council hired the CAO to do a job, and it’s his job to manage.”
Bjorgaard said, “Within any organization, when you’re comfortable with what’s going on in a department, you have very little involvement as a CAO … but when you have a concern, or there’s a high-profile thing going on, it’s up to you to make sure things are on track.”
Accountability is a major focus at the district and is higher now than it ever has been, the CAO added. “Accountability is key to creating an organization that’s effective and efficient.”
Hensman also didn’t think council was guilty of bullying or berating staff.
“We held staff accountable,” said Hensman.