The hiring of a new city manager gives the mayor and council of the day the unique opportunity to shape the entire municipal government bureaucracy.
When Colin Kinsley announced the hiring of Derek Bates from the regional district as the new city manager at the end of 2006, replacing longtime manager George Paul, they were clearly signaling that they did not want a huge shakeup. They went out and got someone familiar who rose through the ranks at the regional district and knew the city and the region, as well as its politics, well.
With Tuesday's announcement that Beth James will replace Bates as city manager, Mayor Shari Green and city council have sent completely the opposite signal. They have brought in an outsider to blow some fresh air through the corridors at City Hall.
It speaks volumes that James's background is in both the private and public sector. Unlike Bates, who spent virtually his entire career at the regional district before jumping to the city, James boasts a diverse background.
Her biography on the website of Heenan Blaikie Consulting of Vancouver, where she was a strategic advisor, is an impressive read.
Before her time as a vice president in the consulting division at PricewaterhouseCoopers, specifically focusing on the B.C. public sector, she served in several executive roles in the B.C. provincial government.
Her specialties, according to her biography, are "structuring government and service organizations for success... (with) deep expertise in business transformation inititatives, shared services models and outsourcing."
In other words, she's really good at overhauling bureaucracies, cutting out waste, arranging public sector partnerships with the business community (that's what "shared services models" are) and handing over everything that doesn't need to be done by city employees over to private contractors.
James will not be interested for one minute in "well, that's the way we do it here in Prince George." Only best practices that create maximum output with minimum input will satisfy her.
If her background is any indication, the change James will bring will percolate down to the lowest positions in the city bureaucracy. Senior managers will have two choices - buy-in to the new vision or here's the buyout and best of luck in the future. Some unionized staff will see their titles and responsibilities dramatically change as part of a broad reorganization. Others may suddenly wake up to find their jobs have been handed over to a private contractor. Those workers will then be invited to reapply to their former positions at a fraction of the previous wage.
Attention, city staff - that's not a breath of fresh air coming your way, it's a hurricane. In business speak, it appears mayor and council have just hired a "change agent" and when those kinds of managers blow through, they change everything - structure, process, culture and staff. Nothing is left untouched.
Attention, mayor and council - you've brought in a sophisticated city manager who knows how to get things done. If it's transformation you really want, hold her to that and then get out of the way.