The city’s top bureaucrat, who is two years into her first city manager role, dismissed scathing criticism by veteran governance guru George Cuff as not based on “facts or context” and said she would like to “educate” him.
Meanwhile, a consultant’s report that Ms. Samra is relying on to justify her many restructures and staff changes seems to contradict the city manager’s moves by warning that the city must plan for a future staffing crisis.
Acclaimed municipal expert Mr. Cuff, who has helped more than 500 municipalities and other public sector agencies across Canada, heaped scorn on Ms. Samra’s multiple management shuffles in an interview published by NanaimoNewsNow on Monday.
He told the news outlet that Nanaimo’s administration struck him as a “confused organization led by people who haven’t quite figured out their own agenda,” adding that constant change “impacts the morale” and the “ability to find quality people.”
The comments were a stinging rebuke of Nanaimo’s council and their top manager, who has restructured management ranks at least three times and overseen the loss of almost 35 non-union management staff since 2015.
More recently, Ms. Samra fired three managers but then rehired one of them three weeks later.
The ongoing onslaught of changes provoked an unprecedented protest in December when most union members boycotted the city’s year-end lunch to draw attention to the culture of “fear and vitriol” at the city.
But last night Ms. Samra hit back at Mr. Cuff in comments to News Nanaimo saying he was uninformed and his views are outdated.
“Mr. Cuff offers his opinions generally and do not appear to be based on facts or context,” said the city manager.
She said she would like to “educate and inform him” about the city “and then hear what he has to offer.”
Added Ms. Samra: “Modernization of city operations is certainly evolving in 2018.”
The release referred to the seemingly haphazard changes in reporting lines, staff departures and axings as a “phased reorganization” which was “now complete.”
The changes had been due to “recommendations of the Core Services Review” published May 2016, the release said. Vacant management positions were saving the city $745,000 per year, it was claimed.
But the Core Services Review, prepared by Western Management Consultants (WMC), never recommended a “phased reorganization” or that managers be fired or their positions not filled.
WMC found that the city had “fewer managers relative to its staff complement than is the case in the other benchmark municipalities.”
And the consultants warned the city to prepare for a bulge of retirements and stiff competition for new staff because babyboomers are leaving the workforce across the country.
According to WMC, who the city paid more than $277,000 for its recommendations, five more managers are expected to become eligible for retirement this year alone.
Said the report: “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 five 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.”
WMC urged the city to “develop a succession plan” identifying positions likely to become vacant and “determine in advance how it will address these vacancies” in light of current “market demand for individuals with the required expertise and experience and the implications this may have for recruitment looking ahead.”
In yesterday’s release, the city said there had been “no layoffs or terminations of unionized employees.” But Ms. Samra told News Nanaimo this did not include some staff who were let go from the Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation because it was an “independent corporation.”