A high turnover of city staff is contributing to mistakes that have been singled out by city council, according to the city manager.
“It is my view that the high turnover of staff over the last term is contributing to many of the staff ‘errors’ council has noted,” Andy Laidlaw said in a report to council.
The most recent notable error was in a report from Ron Neufeld, the city’s manager of operations, when he reported that the city had enough funding available to install two crosswalk lights, when in fact it only had enough for one. Neufeld explained the lights cost more to install than he was led to believe at the time he prepared the report.
Neufeld owned up to the oversight, telling council “my apologies, that’s my error.”
Laidlaw said some of the “errors” stem from the fact the city employs a number of new employees that are trying to survive in a high stress environment.
“We have staff in new positions trying to manage in an environment of high service demands, declining resources, increasing performance expectations, and a critical public. If council wishes to provide some stability to staffing in this organization it will be necessary to review a management retention strategy.”
Laidlaw, who himself is new to the city, took over the position of city manager early this year after relocating from Nanaimo. Laidlaw said he believes the city will be in a more stable position if it focuses on training people from within to fill new positions that become available.
“I would suggest that given the rapid shift and changes in management staffing over the last three years that succession planing is a critical issue for council,” Laidlaw said. “Stable and long-serving staff provide the continuity of business practices. The training required to new hires who, when entering municipalities for the first time, have steep learning curves.
“Both financial and time resources need to be applied to develop these individuals allowing them to take on more challenging and responsible positions.”
Laidlaw said it’s expected there will be a shortage of capable municipal senior managers within seven years, as the baby boomers begin to retire.
He said the best way to address the issue is to train existing employees.
“Growing in-house resources will be the best options available to councils,” Laidlaw said to council. “Failure to address the issue will lead to your best people leaving and a rerun of all the resultant financial and organizational inefficiencies and costs that you have experienced over the last three years.”
Laidlaw said the current staffing structure is comparable to other similar sized communities, as reported in former city manager George Paul’s review of city staff in July.
“Our current structure stands up well to external benchmarking,” Laidlaw said. But “I understand council wishes to have a leaner, less bureaucratic and cheaper staff organization.”
He said however, that in order to keep and hire new staff, council should consider the impacts of making staffing cuts.
“The best and brightest may consider relocating to other municipalities where their futures will be more secure and where there will be more opportunity for career development/advancement,” Laidlaw said. “Future recruitment will become increasingly challenging as many potential employees will be reluctant to move to a community where their positions may be reduced or eliminated.”