City manager Beth James shook up City Hall this week, trimming down the number of directors in senior management from six to five.
This is the kind of work city council really wanted her to do when they hired her last year and the kind of work city taxpayers have been demanding. There were simply too many managers overseeing too few workers. Her specialty is finding and exploiting corporate efficiencies and now, with a new labour contract with the city's unionized workers in place, she's able to start thinning the herd at the management level.
Sadly, Colleen Van Mook is no longer with the city. She worked hard for city taxpayers, she was a key player in the bid process for the 2015 Canada Winter Games and she supported her staff as the former director of community services. She will be missed. Once her severance package is paid for, however, her annual salary of nearly $160,000 won't be missed.
Much of her former duties have been transferred to Rob Whitwham, whose title is now recreation and cultural services director. He will have an associate director working under him in Andy Beesley, the manager of CN Centre and the city's recreation facilities.
Operations superintendent Bill Gaal now looks after fleet services, which previously fell to corporate services director Kathleen Soltis. With the extra load, Gaal also has an associate director to help in wastewater supervisor Gina Layte Liston.
Other departments were moved around. Bylaw services used to answer to Whitwham but now answer to Walter Babicz, who has become the city's legal and regulatory director. Babicz now looks after the supply and procurement folks, as well, instead of Soltis. Communications used to fall under her as well but now that goes straight to James.
It's unlikely James is finished tinkering with the city's organizational structure and the associate director model opens the door for an even smaller management team down the road, who would each oversee a group of lesser-paid associate directors who would take over much of the same responsibilities as directors once had.
The city has seen this kind of streamlining at the senior management level in the public before but it happened quietly and with virtually no public attention.
When Allan Wilson became chief librarian at the Prince George Public Library at the beginning of 2004, there were five other senior managers at the library. By the time he left in 2013 to become UNBC's chief librarian, Wilson had reduced the library's management team to just himself and a public services manager, mostly through a series of early retirement packages.
He hired coordinators at a lower level of pay to take on much of what the previous managers did in the various departments and those coordinators reported directly to him or to the public services manager (full disclosure: before I returned to the Citizen as managing editor in 2012, I was the communications coordinator at the library for two years.)
Wilson's 2004 management team also had the same issues with age that James inherited at the city. According to the city's own internal projections, 37 per cent of all city staff and 57 per cent of city staff in leadership roles are eligible to retire within the next five years. From a human resources standpoint, that's a disaster waiting to happen. Identifying future leaders within the organization, like Beesley and Liston, and grooming them for key roles down the road is far cheaper to taxpayers in both the short and long term than having to search far and wide to find the right person willing to come to Prince George and northern B.C.
James has the job of making sure the city has the best team in place to deliver the services local residents pay for in the most efficient way possible.
The job local residents has comes in November, when it will be time to review the performance of the current mayor and council, and decide if some management changes need to be made on that front.
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