The first week of the new year brought with it a surprise for many people - both the director and assistant director of finance at City Hall were let go. I can't speak for every member of city council, but I'm reasonably sure that for most of us, we didn't see this coming. I'm also aware that hiring and firing of staff is not the responsibility of council, except for the city manager - that's the only position that directly reports to council. The city manager is responsible for the overall functioning of the city, and if he determined that this was the best solution, not just for administration, but for council and the city as a whole, then that was his decision to make.
I think that part of why I and others on council were so surprised by this, is because we just finished going through the main budget process, which appeared to go well by all accounts, and two of the people most responsible for this are now gone. And we're not done the budget process - we still have to look at the sanitation budget, and have already had tomorrow's meeting to discuss that budget postponed. Great - now we have to wait for someone else to get up to speed before we can get on with city business.
We're also the victim of the usual misconceptions and rumours - council is being blamed, by some of the usual opinionated yet misinformed anonymous individuals on the internet who would be so much better on council than the current incumbents (at least in their opinions) for taking this precipitous action that most of us found out about at the same time as everybody else.
So if this decision was not council's to make, what do I think could have been done differently?
Well, for starters, things work most smoothly if council and administration consider themselves as part of the same team, and in the interests of working as a team, letting us know that there were problems would have been a good start. Perhaps it would have been an opportunity to discuss the various options that were out there - I've found that often other solutions come up during discussions that wouldn't be considered otherwise - as the old saying has it, none of us is as smart as all of us. And I think that we might have suggested that, at this point in the budgeting process, the timing for losing experienced staff and bringing on relative newcomers with much more limited experience was not the best.
And I think that most council members would agree that we don't appreciate being blindsided by a decision that not only has serious financial implications, but that also affects workplace morale and functioning. Knowing ahead of time would have given us the opportunity to process the information, and develop a plan for moving forward. Now we're left trying to figure it out as we go along, and that doesn't bode well for good decision-making either.
The decision has been made, though, and we are moving forward. As part of the moving forward, I will be advocating strongly that we do a thorough search for the best possible replacements for those key positions. Let's not just take the most expedient route. Let's not rush into decisions that we may regret, and that may put us in the same position in the near future.
"Change is not progress." - H.L. Mencken