Staffing decisions on tap for the City of Port Alberni

The City of Port Alberni has plans to replace their fire chief—but not necessarily their city engineer.

The City of Port Alberni has plans to replace their fire chief—but not necessarily their city engineer.

Longtime city engineer Guy Cicon put in his notice mid-July and will use up accumulated vacation time before retiring at the end of 2016. Former city manager and current project advisor Ken Watson—the city’s other on-staff engineer—will also retire at the end of the year, leaving the city with no professional engineers on staff.

According to Mayor Mike Ruttan, replacing the city’s soon to retire engineer—and head of the engineering and public works department—is not a simple decision.

“We’re still looking at that and seeing what the opportunities are,” said Ruttan.

“Certainly not all cities of our size have a full-time city engineer so we need to see what’s in our best interests.”

On Vancouver Island, all cities with a population of between 12,000 and 30,000 (Courtenay, Comox, Parksville, Esquimalt and Langford) have a professional engineer on staff. Port Alberni’s population is 18,000.

According to CAO Tim Pley, manager of operations Wilf Taekema will take over Cicon’s role until the city reaches a decision.

“With regard to the duties of the city engineer while he is on vacation, some of his duties will be covered by other personnel—and some items might be put on hold based on our capacity—pending our consideration of the city’s best interests in terms of replacing the engineer,” Pley wrote in an e-mail.

“[There is] no defined timeline for that decision to be made.”

The Port Alberni Fire Department is in need of a new fire chief following Pley’s ascension to the role of CAO for the city. Pley, the former fire chief, had initially taken over the role of acting CAO on Jan. 18, 2016, after Watson was reassigned to a major projects advisor role.

Pley officially became CAO on July 18, exactly seven months after Watson’s reassignment. The city employed executive search firm Davies Park to find a CAO at a budgeted cost of $35,000 plus expenses. Final cost estimates for the firm’s services are not yet available.

The past seven months have seen Deputy Chief Wes Patterson take over operations at the firehall.

“The city will be conducting an open competition prior to selecting the next fire chief,” Pley wrote.

“In the interim Deputy Chief Patterson will continue to lead the operations of the fire department, which he has been doing a terrific job of for the past seven months.”

A 2011 review of Port Alberni’s fire department operations, completed by Dugal Smith and Associates, noted that both fire chief and deputy are essential positions.

“The deputy fire chief is an essential position in the department. It shares the off-duty on-call time and decision making and makes the fire chief more effective,” the report noted, adding that having both positions ensures there is always an excluded manager available on shift crews to make critical logistic risk and financial decisions.

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