THE DEPARTURE OF SAANICH'S CAO
This page tries to provide perspective on the departure of Chief Administrative Officer Paul Murray as newly elected Mayor Richard Atwell took over after the Saanich municipal election of November 2014
It is written in response to the subject of a blog thread on VibrantVictoria and the stumbling around in it, so has elements that may seem obscure without reading the blog thread.
(You’ll herein see some of the “deeper reasons” “LJ” wanted, some of the “history” that “Spanky123” suggested exists, from my experience and from media reporting including staff refusal to provide a document to Atwell. And you'll see my evaluation of people and how to manage.)
- Both Atwell and Helps were quick to get to work, meeting with the top administrator, and in at least Helps’ case with councillors. They started discusssions before being sworn in, perhaps that was unwise.
- Atwell says that after the election several Saanich employees refused to give him a copy of a staff review of what candidates and questioners had said in all-candidates public meetings. (He objected to its preparation.) In my judgement that is a firing offence, irrespective of whether or not spending taxpayer money on the report was appropriate.
- Atwell says that when he met with Murray the discussion rapidly turned to departure. (Someone herein claims that Atwell brought a lawyer to the discussion, but without specific knowledge of why I note it might have simply been to point Murray to the illegality of withholding the report. The presence of a third person would provide a witness to the discussion. If it was deSouza, I note that he is familiar with municipal law – he got media attention for successfully suing parents who supported actions of their graffiti vandal son for costs to property owners including the municipality.)
- Most of the new council were aligned with Frank Leonard in the campaign, in combinations of mutual endorsement and shared brochures. I experienced devious behaviour from two councillors, and judge a third’s attempt to reverse a long-standing OCP provision without consultation with the community as devious behaviour.
- Voter dissatisfaction with Frank Leonard’s overall performance was shown in 2011 when he almost lost the election - the 2014 result was inevitable.
- Apparently the two new councillors joined with the others in effectively censuring Atwell, despite probable lack of understanding of behaviour of some of Saanich staff and some of the re-elected councillors.
I am very wary of a collective memo from incumbents aligned with the former mayor and new councillors who may not know much background. Seems to me it is as hasty and unfair as they claim Atwell was.
- Behaviour of staff is influenced in varying ways by the CAO, the Mayor, and council, including by direct contact, questioning, and criticism. Those influences set the tone of behaviour by staff, for good or bad. Micro-management from the top is not possible except in specific cases, culture is what determines actions day in and day out, especially small actions that do not rise to the CAO, mayor, or council but have a great impact on individuals in the community.
- Staff are a major influence on policy because they make the reports to council and implement decisions, thus can bias actions at both the policy level by content of reports and the detail level in implmenting decisions. Atwell is aware of a case where Saanich administration including the mayor flip-flopped on an agreement.
- Removing an executive does send a proper message to employees, if it is explained well. Atwell was elected in part on a pledge of openness, refusal to provide a report does not meet that new standard for Saanich government. Staff should get ready for more replacements, and hopefully a slimming of some titles and departments. “Collaboration” only works with sincere people, in my judgement from my experience with them and from media reports several department heads and three councillors are not sincere people. The cost of cutting out cancer is high but necessary.
- It’s almost amusing that the neo-Marxist councillors supported Mercantilist Frank Leonard, though he was becoming an environmentalist activist (most environmental activists believe Marxism’s negative view of humans, judging by what they promote on other subjects).
- A letter writer in the December 31, 2014 issue of the Saanich News notes that Atwell could not have been involved in any contract specifying a high payout to Murray for separation from employment by the municipality, as he was not mayor nor councillor when the contract was made.
- It is possible that Murray was ignorant of bad behaviour by staff, though I think unlikely. It can be hard to spot, especially by people who lack sound understanding of values. (They might be honest themselves, but don’t ask critical questions and are easy marks for the dishonest.) Nevertheless, Mr. Murray was in charge of the staff, administering is not easy, but it is the job being paid for.
- Municipal staff tend to be bureaucratic, and empire builders – in part because they see government interference as the solution to any problems so try to expand their ability to control people. Typical politicians do so too, they distrust humans. So government becomes a self-perpetuating antagonist to honest people.
- Atwell and Helps are each trying to change their particular governments to get things done and save money. They are clearly very determined, capable, and pro-active people, whether right or wrong. Each was elected on a campaign of changing the performance of the respective governments.
- There's much loose talk herein, including unsupported assertions. For example, contradictory claims as to when Atwell had the MWOTDW discussion with Murray.
And “Spanky123’s” claim that Murray’s accrued vacation (in the ballpark of a quarter of salary?) is accepted by labour law. While if it met the employer's policies he is due it under law, whether employment law of contract law, it is proper for Atwell to point to that money as part of what Murray will be paid one way or another. (Murray might wish to stay an employee while using that accrued vacation time, to maintain benefits such as insurance and extended health until he can arrange replacements, but that has to be by mutual agreement. In any case, in the circumstances here the organization may not want him in the office, though they lose some continuity, there might be an agreement to answer questions offsite.)It is bad administration to have people not taking vacation. I worked at a company whose normally mild-mannered president threatened to fire managers who weren’t taking their vacations. Part of the problem was that yearly vacation allowance could build up to at least seven weeks, and some people didn't want to take that much in the near term. OTOH, the company worked to get vacation for new employees up to three weeks from the usual two of the day, and reduce the ability of union pilots to take the plum assignments that seniority enabled them to.
- I am particularly interested in any _evidence_ that developers opposed Atwell, as someone claimed (I say s/he speculates unless s/he has evidence), I think it unlikely given the micro-management of development projects by Leonard, staff, s/and council as well as Leonard’s bullying of property owners such as in the case of his objection to farming Panama Flats. (Which BTW has been sitting idle for over two years since Leonard backed away from a legal fight he was likely to lose and made a deal to trade lands. Meanwhile councillors and staff are pushing local farming to deny property owners rights in another location – duh? I’ll bet those land owners would have been working against re-election of Leonard if they had completed building on their new lands so were no longer subject to staff oppression, and cared about Saanich any more.)
- FTR, I oppose Atwell on some subjects, he and I will likely have strong debate. But change was needed even though it is a risk, I support removal of Paul Murray because of the rot under his administration. Saanich has an opportunity for a restart, but it won't be easy due years of behaviour and many troubled councillors re-elected. Offending individuals should be required to prove they can change their attitude toward taxpayers, or be moved out of the organization
© Keith Sketchley, Page version 2015.01.01
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