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.
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.