Three more city staff members have announced their intentions to leave Pitt Meadows, and at least one councillor says politicians must consider the effect their leadership style is having on top employees.
Coun. Tracy Miyashita says council has never worked harder, holding more and longer meetings, which also puts more demands on staff. She also accuses her council colleagues of meddling in city affairs that would previously have been left to administrators.
This week it was learned that manager of development services Anne Berry is moving to Vancouver Island for a promotion, and engineering services coordinator Ike de Boer and deputy clerk Linda Kelly are both retiring.
Last week, the city announced that CAO Kim Grout is leaving to become the CEO of the B.C. Agricultural Land Commission, and legislative services manager Kelley Kenney will be doing the same job for the Comox Valley Regional District.
“What we do at the council level has impacts throughout the organization,” said Miyashita. “Council has to work more as a council, rather than operational.
“We have wonderful staff in place – let’s trust them to do their job.”
She said council’s approach should be strategic, setting direction and policy. This council has begun scrutinizing all city expenditures, instead of just those over $25,000, and asked to see an itemized list of spending, including amounts as low as $4, Miyashita pointed out.
“I can see how staff would not feel valued during that exercise,” she said. “The culture has changed, and that often comes from the leadership.
“We have fantastic staff – I’m really sorry to see these people go,” she added. “They carry a wealth of knowledge and experience.”
Mayor John Becker agreed the city will face challenges with the sudden loss of so many key staff.
“It never rains, it pours. I’m afraid to come into city hall,” he said.
But he characterized the problem as being one of employee retention – a small city will always have staff hired away for better career opportunities in larger centres.
“And, at some point, everybody retires – even Ike de Boer,” Becker added.
He sees no problem with morale at city hall, where he spends a lot of time, but said there is considerable work under way, with two large Onni developments in South Bonson, complex transportation issues, and now parks and recreation service delivery.
“These are issues we have to react to.”
Regarding councillors being meddling, Becker said the elected officials are expected to deal with the concerns of constituents, and assist them in their dealings with city hall staff. Councillors have to do that without staff “walking on egg shells” because a taxpayer “didn’t like their water rate.
“We should not be meddling in staff affairs, and that’s not happening in any problematic way,” asserted Becker.
Under normal circumstances, the CAO would be hired by council, and that person would then hire all administrators.
In the present situation, Becker said filling the CAO “function” should be a priority, however council decides to cover that. Filling the position permanently will not be rushed, he said.
Having a retired CAO to fill in on a limited term is one option council could look at, he suggested, and said such people are available.
That person could look at replacing some of the key staff who are needed before a new CAO is hired.
The mayor conceded city hall will not be as efficient until these key vacancies are filled, but said existing staff will “make do.
“We don’t have a lot of redundancy, but we do have a lot of people who know a lot about a lot of jobs.”