Senior staffer gone from City of Nanaimo after less than 6 months

By Dominic Abassi
June 7, 2017 - 5:14pm Updated: June 7, 2017 - 5:49pm

File photo/NanaimoNewsNOW

NANAIMO — A senior manager is no longer working with the City of Nanaimo after less than six months on the job.

Director of human resources John Van Horne confirmed chief sustainability officer Kim Fowler left the City in mid-May. Fowler began working in the newly-created position within the senior management team in December, 2016.

Van Horne would not say whether Fowler quit, left for another job or was fired. He also would not disclose if any severance payout was involved. "In this case it's just not something I'm able to get into," Van Horne told NanaimoNewsNOW. "We're finding with staffing matters it's less challenging if we just say this has to be an internal personnel matter."

An October, 2016 City news release said Fowler brought with her over 26 years of experience within local government and was a member of the Canadian Institute of Planners and the Planning Institute of BC.

The creation of Fowler's new role was designed to support the role out of the City's organizational restructuring. "This position was created as part of the implementation of the core services review. I believe someone of Kim's calibre and breadth of experience in the municipal sector will benefit the city," CAO Tracy Samra stated in the October release.

Fowler was also appointed project coordinator for the events centre proposal.

Van Horne said discussions around replacing Fowler have not occurred. "Right now we're trying to determine are we the right sized group, do we have the right people at the table," he said.

Municipal governance consultant George Cuff said it's a "highly unusual" situation to have senior managers coming and going in such a short period of time. Cuff has been involved in local government since the 1970's, working as a consultant on more than 500 reviews of municipalities across Canada over the last 30 years. He said that includes work with the City of Nanaimo and Regional District of Nanaimo.

"It's expensive for the city in a whole bunch of ways to have people come and go. You're losing corporate memory, you're losing corporate experience," Cuff said. "It says you either hired wrong or you groomed wrong or the person that applied chose wrong. Any one of which of those is not a particularly good answer so I think overall it's a negative, chilling impact on the rest of the senior management."

He said if someone comes and goes in six months it's an indicator to other staff that perhaps there's a lack of stability within the organization.

"Nanaimo is a good-sized centre, it's the kind of city where people would be happy to retire in so I would find it dubious...I would find it surprising if you didn't have people lasting longer than four or five years."

In August of last year, Van Horne reported 21 mid-to-upper level management staff had left the City of Nanaimo over a roughly 20 month period. Since then, city clerk Jane Armstrong started and ended her employment with the City.

Not all of the departures were amicable or cheap. Long-time senior staffer Toby Seward was paid more than $100,000 as an early retirement incentive to leave last summer. Brian Denbigh, who spent more than 40 years with the municipality, is currently suing for wrongful dismissal. The City's response claimed there was nothing illegal about the termination.

Cuff said without knowing all of the background or reasons for all of the departures, that level of turnover is quite surprising.

"Quite frankly it would say to me that your strength of management and therefore council's ability to have confidence in what they're hearing from management would be considerably weakened by that level of turnover. I would find it quite frankly unhealthy that you would have that degree of turnover in a city of your size."

Van Horne said while the City does track the staff turnover rate, the person who normally handles that file went on leave part way through 2016. "We haven’t prioritized generating the statistics at this point."

Fowler was contacted but declined comment at this time.


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