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Nanaimo’s brain drain continues, 21 managers have now left city

Two more key managers take jobs elsewhere as council appears unwilling to seek answers to rash of resignations.

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The City of Nanaimo’s management brain drain continues unabated with confirmation that 21 managers or higher have now left the city, News Nanaimo can reveal.

The latest figures include the resignations this month of two key managers who played important roles at the city, including ensuring the integrity millions of dollars in purchases and negotiating collective agreements with unionized staff.

The two managers who resigned most recently are:

  • Kurtis Felker, Purchasing & Stores Manager, who was with the city for seven years and four months. He left the city earlier this month for a job as Procurement Category Manager with Metro Vancouver.
  • Paddy Bradley, Labour Relations Manager, who was with the city for almost three years. She has accepted a post as Manager at the Greater Victoria Labour Relations Association (GVLRA)

Meanwhile, multiple city sources tell News Nanaimo a long-time staff member well known to many residents has been in settlement negotiations with the city after clashing with Chief Administrative Officer Tracy Samra. Sources said the negotiations reached a sensitive stage Friday and details could be made public in the near future.

High turnover points to leadership, other issues

The city’s voluntary resignation rate among managers now stands at around 20% for the past year. That is five times the 4% average voluntary turnover rate for the period 2011 to 2014, according to city statistics. Voluntary turnover doesn’t include retirements or employer-initiated departures such a severance packages.

An increase in voluntary turnover can point to a drop in leadership credibility, poor retention practices, a lack of salary competitiveness, or an improved job market, according to the HR Metrics Service.

So far, only Mayor Bill McKay has expressed any concern about the high rate of management departures.

In May, when the number of management departures stood at 15, he told the Nanaimo News Bulletin that he wanted more information about why staff were leaving. He described the departures as a “huge brain drain” that hurts the city as it’s hard to replace experienced staff.

However, to date no one on council has formally requested a staff report on the high turnover rate or asked for information on staff morale.

Retirement bulge to compound problem

In May, the city’s core services review consultants, working from data to 2015, warned that a coming bulge of staff retirements was a critical issue for the city.

They advised management and council to plan ahead by training staff to fill jobs likely to fall vacant in the next five years and to create more competitive recruitment packages.

Said the consultants: “It is important to note that there are 26 managerial positions and 144 staff positions where the incumbents will be eligible for retirement in the next 5 years.

“Also, amongst the remaining City employees will be a number of individuals whose skills and experience are important to the day-to-day ‘mission critical’ operations of the City and where finding a replacement in a short time period might be particularly challenging.”

However, the city’s HR director John Van Horne previously told the Nanaimo News Bulletin that he had no concerns about the high rate of resignations. He said he does not anticipate a gap in knowledge as corporate records stay at the city and there are still staff with vast knowledge.

Since he made those remarks, six more managers have left the city.

Other managers who have resigned for other jobs this year include:

  • Guillermo Ferrero, director of information and technology legislative services, who is now city manager at the Town of Ladysmith;
  • Suzanne Samborski, director of strategic relations, culture and heritage, now director of parks and recreation at District of Saanich ;
  • Geoff Goodall, director of engineering and public works, who moved to Ladysmith in the same position;
  • Chris Jackson, manager of legislative services; who went to Powell River as city clerk; and,
  • Jason Birch, manager of information systems, who has taken on the same role at the Municipality of North Cowichan.

Meanwhile, governance experts have also warned that a council portfolio system introduced by Ms. Samra in March could lead to political interference in the civil service that can contribute to managers leaving for other jobs.

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