City Hall leadership committee steps back, calls on Council to find new option

By Dominic Abassi
April 6, 2018 - 5:54pm Updated: April 9, 2018 - 2:39pm

Senior staff at City Hall are resuming their regular duties, calling on Council to find a new leadership option.File photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — The seven member team of senior staff leading City Hall for the last month is turning the keys back to Council, calling on them to find a new leadership model.

Director of human resources John Van Horne confirmed to NanaimoNewsNOW the leadership committee sent a letter to Council on Thursday, after shouldering the workload left by the absence of the chief administrative and chief financial officers.

"(The leadership model) just clearly wasn't catching on the way we had hoped and anticipated and as a result we've said 'Maybe it's time to look at some other options for delivering this.'"

Van Horne said it would be up to Council to decide how to move forward as the seven staff members move back into their regular roles. He declined to elaborate on what specific issues led to the determination things weren't "catching on."

The letter was written one day after a contentious budget meeting, during which councillors took issue with a wide range of initiatives in the 2018 financial plan.

Coun. Jim Kipp said while he appreciated staff's hard work during an "extreme situation right now with no leadership," he was confused about who was handling staffing decisions and who was directing staff on priorities.

"Let's have a motion, show some leadership and tell us what we have to do or what you think should be done because right now we're rudderless," Kipp said, directing the comment at mayor Bill McKay.

Kipp raised the issue of why phase two of the core review wasn't included in the budget, despite a Council motion from December of last year calling on staff to begin work on it early in 2018.

"Who do I talk to as my CAO to say why was that not pushed forward? I guess the mayor has taken over that role. I've heard that," Kipp said.

He continued by accusing McKay of not responding to a suggestion he made to institute a "unified command model" for handling management during emergency situations.

"I'm left up in the air wondering what you're doing," Kipp said, slamming his book closed and muttering "this is a waste of my life" before briefly leaving the room.

During the meeting, McKay responded to Kipp's comments saying he was in no way leading staff and Council did not object in any way to the committee leadership approach McKay announced at a public meeting on March 5.

He said Council could have at any time made a motion to install an interim CAO.

"With that said, we need to concern ourselves with where Council gets into directing the activities of your CAO or your CAO committee as they would normally do...If it's being run by committee, a decision this Council has not objected to, then I would suggest we not interfere."

Speaking to NanaimoNewsNOW on Friday, McKay said he was surprised to hear staff were relinquishing their leadership role.

"I can't say I blame our senior staff for wanting to really just get back to the work they've been assigned to do," he said. "I thought it was working fine but that view is not shared by other members of Council," McKay said.

He said some councillors continually reached out directly to staff, which "made it very difficult...Staff start to question who their bosses are. In normal operation, it's always the CAO they are to report to, not Council directly."

Coun. Ian Thorpe said he was "very sorry" to receive the letter from staff on Thursday.

"I felt that senior staff had tried extremely hard to provide leadership during this challenging time...I thought they were doing an effective job as an interim solution. That said, I can understand they would not wish to continue in such a role for a longer period of time."

He said he thinks Council must consider the appointment of an interim CAO to take charge.

Coun. Gord Fuller said the letter from staff came as a surprise to him because he was "not aware" there was a leadership committee.

All members of Council were contacted for comment but only McKay, Fuller and Thorpe responded.

Council will meet in-camera Monday morning to discuss the matter.


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On Twitter: @domabassi

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