Concerns about staffing decisions made by the current Port Alberni city council were brought up during the administration’s final meeting before this month’s civic election.
CUPE Local 118 president Stacy Watton said in a letter addressed to council that the city’s reorganizing and restructuring of departments over the last four years has led to a “deficit in morale” among union and exempt employees. She also said that the turnover rate in the past four years, compared to the previous four, has increased by 325 percent.
The Rogers Report, commissioned by this council in 2015 for $50,000, was carried out by former city of Vancouver manager Judy Rogers and contained seven recommendations to cut costs for the city. Some management positions were eliminated, while others were reconfigured. The report led to a number of questions about transparency and staffing practices.
The report was even brought up during last week’s all-candidates meetings, with former city councillor and current council candidate Cindy Solda criticizing the “poisonous environment” among workers. Former mayor and current mayoral candidate John Douglas also said that this current council has been lacking in transparency.
“The brain drain is dramatic,” he said. “It’s been intentional, done in part by this council. And the effect has been just incredible. People have left in droves and the resulting things are a great loss in morale and lack of respect that we need to rebuild.”
Some of the senior managers who were either dismissed as a result of the Rogers Report or have left under the present administration include former city manager Ken Watson (now back on staff as a special projects engineer), former city engineer Guy Cicon, former director of corporate services Theresa Kingston, former director of parks, recreation and heritage Scott Kenny and, most recently, former city planner Scott Smith. Many of these employees had been with the city for 25 years or more.
The issue came up again during the Tuesday, Oct. 9 meeting of council, where Watton said in her letter addressed to council that this report has led to the loss of a number of knowledgeable employees.
“The City of Port Alberni, as an employer, is not as it once was and this reflects in the fact that you have vacant exempt positions that should not be hard to fill but unfortunately seem to be,” she said.
During Tuesday’s council meeting, Mayor Mike Ruttan argued that the letter is “unfair” to management, and that the changes have brought the city’s costs more into line with other municipalities.
“This council was voted in with an expectation that we would cooperate together, look after taxpayers’ money and set a direction for our city that would lead to greater economic opportunities and increased confidence,” he said. “We’ve done that. I’m not going to apologize for us doing our job or meeting the expectations.”
Councillor Sharie Minions, however, said on Tuesday that she disagreed with much of what the mayor said. “I think we have made a lot of mistakes and I will apologize for some of those mistakes,” she said.
This isn’t the first time she has criticized the Rogers Report in a public setting. During the mayoral all-candidates meeting last week, Minions said she takes “full responsibility” for her part in creating a moral issue among city employees.
“We have created an environment of mistrust between staff and council and we have a long way to go to rebuild that trust,” she said. “I believe we need to value the staff that we have. We’ve lost some very good people but we have some very good people at the city right now and the last thing I want is to see us lose more new people.”
Outgoing councillor Jack McLeman made a motion on Tuesday to forward the letter to the city’s contract negotiating team, stating that he did not like some of the comments and rumours he has seen on Facebook.
Councillor Denis Sauvé argued that this would be “unproductive” and voted the motion down, along with Minions, Coun. Chris Alemany and Coun. Dan Washington.
On Wednesday morning, Alemany took to Facebook to say McLeman’s motion was “shocking in its level of disrespect. It was a clear example of exactly why our relationship with staff has deteriorated so much,” he added.
Alemany said that sending this letter to the city’s contract negotiating team would “poison the well of future contract negotiations. That is no way to build a relationship with your workforce.”
—with files from Susan Quinn