In last fall's election, which swept Mayor Shari Green and the current council to power, the public was clear in its desire for change.
Voters wanted change in the way municipal government conducts its business, change in the way city services are delivered and change in the attitude elected officials acquire and spend tax dollars.
A secondary change voters sought was a firmer hand on the wheel by the mayor and the eight councillors. Based on letters to the editor, online comments and the questions at all-candidate forums, voters believed (rightly or wrongly, but the voter is always right) that the bureaucracy was running the show and city council had been reduced to a policy and governance board of directors.
Heading to the polls, voters had little respect for the job title of city manager. The demand was for mayor and council, not a bureaucrat, to manage the City of Prince George. The city manager's job was to do what he was told and make sure staff delivered on council's wishes. Some might call that micromanaging but many more would call that due diligence and responsible leadership by elected officials.
For Derek Bates, working for his third mayor in six years, the moving goal posts and the end of his contract made for a good time to bow out.
News of his departure at the end of this year leaked on the Friday before the long weekend. Green took great pains to praise Bates and list his many accomplishments. When he finally spoke to the news media after the long weekend, Bates was equally complimentary and respectful of past and present mayors and council.
Naturally, tongues wagged about what really happened between Bates and Green but there's no evidence to support anything other than the cordial departure of a smart and sophisticated civic leader during a time of dramatic change.
The reduction in city staff at budget time this spring puts Bates and all city employees on notice that council was serious about slashing spending by all means necessary, including staff reductions. There will be more to come with the core review and the negotiation of a new contract for unionized city employees this fall.
Bates is a sophisticated political player, acutely aware of what's on the horizon but also acutely aware of what he brings to the table. The skill set necessary to implement major change in an organization and the skill set required to run to administer hundreds of employees in numerous departments on a daily basis are two very different animals.
Meaningful change at the corporate and government level means pushing people and traditions aside in favour of new faces, new ideas and new standards.
That's not to say Bates couldn't do any heavy lifting.
He navigated plenty of turmoil during the past and present administrations, including the Skakun fiasco and a major flood, keeping things moving along the whole time. It takes devotion and talent to lead each day under those circumstances.
His departure, however, presents Green and council with an opportunity to bring in a new leader with a new approach to municipal government administration.
For starters, the job title should change to reflect the changing times. Deputy mayor would work, since deputy ministers at the provincial and federal levels are the senior staff person in the ministry and directly answerable to the political minister. Chief of staff also works and is used in the office of the premier and the prime minister.
The job title change would be more than semantics. It would provide a clear indication of who is in charge (mayor and council) and who manages the City of Prince George on a daily basis (the mayor).
The rewritten job title could flow from there.
Bates gave Prince George taxpayers six years of excellent value and he earned every penny of his $203,879 salary last year. He will be a valuable addition to the next government agency he works for.
In the meantime, mayor and council need to go on a national headhunt for the person with the passion and experience to deliver the organizational change this municipal government needs.
-- Publisher Colleen Sparrow and managing editor Neil Godbout