January 22nd, 2022

Council to receive directly a review on city manager

By COLLIN GALLANT on January 15, 2022.

A new city council committee will deal with senior management reviews and other employment issues at city hall.--News Photo Collin Gallant

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

Council is laying new groundwork to review the job done by the city manager as well as reset its relationship with city hall workers early in its new term.

A new workforce engagement survey will be done this year, with results going directly to a newly created council committee.

That’s after the fall election when rumours of dissatisfaction cropped into the campaign, said Coun. Shila Sharps, who chairs the “Council Employee Committee” which met for the first time Wednesday.

She says the goal is to improve communication with staff, get input ahead of strategic planning, and have a “clear conversation” about how the city operates.

“There was such a cry for change that we wanted to let employees know that the results will come directly to us (in council),” said Sharps, who operates a human resources, immigration and job placement firm in private life.

The body was created in December by Mayor Linnsie Clark, who told the News the formal process to review upper management levels of local government is a requirement of the province.

“We want to make sure there is a good framework to evaluate the work of the city manager,” she said. “It’s not only a performance review – which all employees are entitled – but to make sure the relationship is strong and aligned.

“We want to make sure the manager feels that way as well.”

Clark, who worked as a city solicitor before taking an unpaid leave to seek office last summer, often pointed to city workers as a strong resource during the campaign.

There were strong undertones from several candidates that city staff were beleaguered due to the pandemic, a wide-ranging corporate reorganization and a round of deep budget cuts that saw a total of 54 positions eliminated.

She did not offer an opinion Friday on any specific concerns she had with city manager Bob Nicolay.

“Certainly during the election I voiced my concerns with some decisions made by previous council,” Clark said. “With a new council, administration will have to pivot to the direction brought in by council. Strategic planning (through February) will provide that.”

Along with Sharps, other committee members are Couns. Allison Van Dyke and Ramona Robbins.

The senior administrative official reporting to the committee is Dennis Egert, head of the corporate services division, which includes the human resources department.

Egert told the News that city hall is a modern, large corporation that values its employees and has sophisticated policies and protocols for human resources.

“We certainly think it’s vitally important to sit down with employees for yearly performance reviews, and throughout the year, to discuss goals and performance,” he said.

Legally, council’s only employee is the city manager, who in turn is the superior to the remainder of some 1,000 workers.

The five labour unions or associations at the city have no official standing with the committee. The head of the largest group, the Canadian Union of Public Employees, Local No. 46, said a new survey could be positive.

CUPE president Sam Ferrier told the News morale “varies from department to department.”

“We hope the survey reveals some of that and council will act accordingly.”

The city last conducted a workplace survey in 2017 (one scheduled for 2020 was delayed by the pandemic). A third-party firm will report results to council through the committee.

The council-employee committee also discussed Wednesday a need for city human resource staff to draw up job descriptions for two new positions meant to provide direct communications and political co-ordination support for council members.

Funding was included among 2022 budget amendments passed late last month and would provide up to $250,000 for two positions and related office budget that would report to elected officials rather than administration.

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