Don White News Nanaimo
ANALYSIS

Why Nanaimo finds it difficult to handle routine tasks

Realistically, it will likely take years to get out of the pit that this administration seems determined to keep digging ever deeper
For anyone who observed the council meetings on December 4 and 11, the real costs of what’s happened in Nanaimo under the current administration were more visible that ever.

At the second council meeting, December 11, “Amendments to the ‘Municipal Solid Waste Collection Bylaw’” relating to “Implementation of Automated Garbage Collection” was again an agenda item. But performances of players at the council table were as poor as the week before when council had to direct staff to rework the document to clear up the confusion.

In something of a repeat performance on December 11 — for upwards to an hour — council and staff continued to wrestle with such conundrums as bin size, bin numbers, upsizing options, and other minutiae that should have been (and perhaps were) long ago resolved. Even the CAO took part, periodically injecting contradictory information.

Were all questions answered satisfactorily and issues resolved the second time around? Uh, no. They weren’t. But this time, rather than again referring the Amendment back to staff, council (with councillors Kipp, Fuller, and Hong opposing) chose to pass it. The main reason, it seems, was that CFO, Victor Mema, needed it to be passed so he could complete his budget. Those voting for the motion declared that the spate of questions they had been pondering in groaning detail for two consecutive weeks were relatively inconsequential and could be answered later.

For anyone familiar with early cinematic comedy, the two week debate was like watching The Keystone Cops Do City Hall. But don’t misunderstand me: this ongoing circus should not be attributed to the incompetence of staff. Instead, it should be recognized as a display of what happens when personnel who are unfamiliar with a file are suddenly forced to take it on and provide detailed answers in a public forum — without having the time needed to get up to speed.

Nanaimo’s Garbage Follies demonstrate what happens when employees who were in the know are no longer around to give answers. The recent episodes of Tripping Over Trash are an example of the inevitable fallout that results when competent staff and managers depart or are terminated before suitable replacements are in place. With the dismissal of Charlotte Davis, our erstwhile Manager of Sanitation, Recycling and Public Works Administration, the switch to automatic garbage seems now to be one more area of struggle for the City.

It also begs the questions: What happened to Charlotte Davis? Why was she fired? This was the woman who two months earlier received the 2017 Women’s Ambassador Award by the Public Works Association of BC. We’ve been told that she was terminated, presumably on the orders of the CAO, but no more. We have no fact-based knowledge whether her dismissal was justifiable. We can only assume Davis is now preparing her wrongful dismissal lawsuit.

However, as anyone who has lived in our city for longer than two weeks can testify, Davis is only one of many senior staff who have left Nanaimo during the tenure of this CAO and council. Deborah Duncan is another. Why did our Deputy Director of Financial Services suddenly up and “retire early”? To my knowledge, Duncan was universally liked and never received anything but praise. It’s a question for which we need to have the answer.

Nanaimo’s Garbage Follies demonstrate what happens when employees who were in the know are no longer around to give answers.

I’ve asked more than once: Where are the exit interviews? Were interviews done? How many departures were voluntary, how many forced? In a recent Facebook post a group of 11 departed employees — representing 250 years of experience working for our city — stated they were made up of five who had been deemed expendable by the current CAO, two who retired before they wanted to, and three who were just glad to leave. Can we hope to get replacements in a toxic environment like this?

If nothing else, The Automated Garbage Circus shines a light on how our repository of expertise has been gutted under the tenure of current administration. Depleted is too mild a word for the decimation that’s happened. If the last two council meetings are any indication, Nanaimo now finds it difficult to competently handle even routine tasks and business in a timely manner.

So as taxpayers in this city, we need to be prepared for the fallout to continue. Lacking full disclosure and evidence to the contrary, we would be wise to use risk management strategies and prepare for the worst case scenarios imaginable. Realistically, it will likely take years to get out of the pit that this administration seems determined to keep digging ever deeper.

At every council meeting, and almost daily in between, the conclusion seems increasingly obvious. The Nanaimo electorate needs several full, in depth investigations by independent agencies on everything this council and their senior managers have touched if we are ever to know exactly where we stand. That includes City finances (yes, also credit card charges), staff relations and terminations, and the full scope of municipal operations — the list keeps growing.

Without this knowledge we can only expect the current circus to continue.

About the author

Don White

Don White

Don moved to Nanaimo from the BC Lower Mainland almost four years ago, but has visited the Island regularly for more than thirty years. He considers local government to be a crucial factor in determining not only our quality of life, but also our efforts to protect and responsibly develop this beautiful but vulnerable setting we live in. This view became his motivation for continuing to inform and engage Nanaimo voters.

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  • There can be no truth to the rumours that the CSO game plan is to get herself fired and then collect a huge payout from the city? Follow the buck.

    • Keep up the good work Don, thank God someone can expose our faulty council and administrators. We must , as Trump said, clean the swamp.

  • Excellent article Don White. Encapsulates the effects of the chaos of council and upper management of our city. This garbage issue needs to be addressed. Ms. Davis needs to be returned to her job with an apology and a bonus.

  • Changing routine behavior is no routine matter. I think we all know that in Nanaimo things have not been reflecting the better elements of a changing world, but simply trusting that more of the same old will make things better. Change takes effort, re-imagination and political will. Ask whether the drift of the past should be continued into the future. Ask whether things are good because no one is paying attention? Ask whether you really want to have the ability to consider alternatives in public (very messy) or return to the silence of the old boy network…

  • It does nothing to solve the problems with Nanaimo council, but it does make me glad that I left the city three years ago. That is always an option for some; just leave Nanaimo and move somewhere else. In a recent conversation with a prominent local politician, the word “evil” came up in reference to one of the vocal critics of this council. It does seem as if some of the players in this municipal game of musical chairs are actually evil in their intentions. Good people have had to leave the city, some with decades of good service. Another word that comes to mind is “sickening”. I wish the good people of Nanaimo a happy resolution to their leadership woes, but don’t count on it.

  • Excellent report.

    A footnote on the new garbage collection system fiasco — i.e., the multi-million dollar programme decided by a minority of council members at a closed session, although one apparently open to the union’s representative.

    It would be useful to obtain reports on the impact of the new trucks on traffic flows along major corridor routes. For at least one corridor there are line-ups of 30 or more vehicles as the new truck with its automated and much-slower-than-the-former-human-operated system ambles along, frustrating drivers and residents alike — and leaving only partly emptied bins all over the place.

    Moral of the story: consult broadly, investigate difficulties other communities have experienced, and test properly before committing to something that’s shiny new and pricey. This and similar service changes should not be considered any councillor’s legacy project: there’s no need to rush.

  • I recently had a long conversation with one of the Fab 5 councilors My simple question was.’Why or who has caused management staff to leave in such great numbers.’ The response, ” it is because of the core review, they did not want to stay and face the results of the core review. It would have been too embarrassing for them to stay” I have a hard time with this answer , but, honest to goodness that was this councilors answer.. I was also told that this CAO championed and started the core review, “Without her input the core review would never have happed. A previous CAO lays claim to starting the core review. Anyone have the true information as to who started the core review process?

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