ST. ALBERT, Alberta
What the heck is going on at the City of St. Albert?
According to the headline on a small news story inside Saturday’s edition of the St. Albert Gazette, our community’s twice-weekly newspaper, “City restructures upper management.”
That’s one way of putting it. From here, though, the “restructuring” last week looks more like the latest step in an extended purge of senior city managers.
According to a memorandum distributed to all city staff by City Manager Kevin Scoble on Wednesday, and apparently not seen by the Gazette, four senior managers and two executive assistants lost their jobs the next day.
- Ian McKay, General Manager, Infrastructure and Development Services
- Gene Klenke, Director, Legal Services
- Kevin Bamber, Director, Transit
- Scott Rodda, Director, Community and Social Development
- Lisa Kaban, Executive Assistant, Infrastructure and Development Services
- Carole Valliere, Executive Assistant, Community and Protective Services.
All the positions they held appear to have been eliminated with the exception of that of the director of legal services.
However, since the start of 2017, at least 24 managers have left employment at the City of St. Albert. Many are experienced senior managers who served the city with distinction for years.
From reports in the St. Albert Gazette it can be confirmed this group includes:
- Chris Jardine, who retired as General Manager of Community and Protective Services in January 2017. Mr. Jardine had also served as acting city manager after City Council terminated Patrick Draper from that role in 2016 until Mr. Scoble was recruited from the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo and began work on Jan. 2, 2017.
- Gilles Prefontaine, the Development Services Manager controversially appointed after serving part of a term as city councillor. Mr. Scoble would not comment on the reasons for Mr. Prefontaine’s sudden departure in media coverage in early May 2017.
- Maya Pungur-Buick, the Corporate and Strategic Services Director, who left a day after Mr. Prefontaine in May 2017, also without explanation by the city.
- Ray Richards, Fire Chief, who retired in May 2017.
- Keven Lefebvre, Chief Richards’ replacement as Fire Chief, who left in late August 2018 without explanation after only six months on the job. “There will be no further comment from the City on this personnel matter,” said a statement emailed to media at the time.
- Chris Belke, Chief Legislative Officer, in a reorganization last March that combined his department with the legal services department, which was then run by Mr. Klenke.
The departures of others who left in the same time frame can be confirmed by their online Linkedin accounts, which they have kept up to date. They are:
- Robin Benoit, Director of Engineering, who left in May 2017.
- Rhys Chouinard, Corporate Analyst, in July 2017.
- Glenn Tompolski, General Manager of Infrastructure and Development Services, in January 2018 (he was replaced by Mr. McKay, who was among last week’s departures).
- Stephen Bourdeau, Cultural Business and Events Manager (Children’s Festival), in February 2018.
- Richard Gagnon, General Manager of Community and Protective Services, in October 2018
In addition, there are at least seven other senior managers whom I have been told left employment with the city in the same time frame whose departures I could not confirm with documentation. There may be more.
In last week’s memorandum, Mr. Scoble told city employees that, “over the past year, I have assessed and evaluated our organization, how we are structured, our collective productivity, our people, our vulnerabilities and our strengths. I have come to the conclusion that a strategic reorganization is necessary….”
The Gazette’s reporter, in addition to noting that Mr. Scoble would now be known as Chief Administrative Officer, quoted Mr. Scoble’s Deputy Chief Administrative Officer, Michelle Bonnici, saying the number of director positions had reduced to 12 from 17. Ms. Bonnici is the former General Manager of Corporate Services and Human Resources Director. She left the city for a spell and returned in January this year. She also has the alternate title Chief People Officer.
Mr. Scoble’s memo says the latest changes “will ensure that there is better decision-making, accountability is placed at the appropriate leadership level within the organization and promote better communication between departments.”
Perhaps. It will certainly concentrate a lot of authority in a small number of hands.
I am not a City Hall insider, so I cannot tell you with confidence what the problem is. But obviously there is a problem.
The people who have left since January 2017 departed for a variety of reasons. Some retired, some resigned, and some were terminated. Whenever the issue has come up in local media, the city has refused to comment, citing personnel policy.
However, it should be obvious that administrative turnover on this scale strongly suggests the problem is not with the people who are leaving. People do retire and quit for personal reasons, and that certainly accounts for some of these 24 departures, but this pace of attrition in management ranks is not normal.
This situation is increasingly likely to have an impact on the level and quality of municipal services St. Albertans receive. I am told the resulting uncertainty has pushed morale in all departments at City Hall into the dumpster.
Full disclosure: I ran for City Council twice, in 2013 and 2007, and lost both times. Nevertheless, probably as a result, I do try to pay attention to what is going on there.
It is troubling that what is happening at the City of St. Albert sounds so much like the program advocated by a slate of candidates who were solidly repudiated by voters in the October 2017 municipal election. Only one of six council candidates who distributed a joint leaflet, plus a mayoral candidate who distributed his materials with theirs and was widely seen as their ally, was elected.
How can it be that a program overwhelmingly rejected by voters now seems to be proceeding as if the slate had won? Why are the members of the current council allowing this to continue?
Mayor Cathy Heron and the elected members of council need to respond to this. This involves too many people to blow off as a mere personnel matter.
The lockdown on communications with media the city has observed since the start of 2017 does not apply to our elected councillors. This is right in their wheelhouse. We need to hear from them.