A governance audit of Cranbrook city council functions and administration operations is recommending significant structural changes following a consultant’s investigation last year.
The audit made a number of suggestions such as clarifying roles and rebuilding trust at the council table, ensuring full information-sharing and addressing low staff morale and turnover.
The audit, obtained through a Townsman freedom of information request, was conducted through survey feedback and on-site interviews with council and senior management staff.
A reorganization of city administration leadership structure, establishing a ‘stepped-up’ human resources function, and clarifying the roles of mayor and council, were key recommendations.
“Both council and management understand that fundamental changes are in order,” reads the report.
In a press release, Mayor Lee Pratt said that implementing the recommendations will ‘be of value’ in taking the right steps forward.
“We found that as an organization we are fundamentally sound, but there are some areas where we can improve,” said Mayor Pratt. “We are committed to making those improvements for the benefit of our residents, the business community along with potential developers and investors.”
The audit found that there is no ‘real sense of organizational health’ in respect to council functions and that there is a loss of trust in and amongst council. Council members have become wary, uncertain what to believe and ‘suspicious of everything,’ according to the report.
“We recommend that the entire organization (Council and management) be focused on rebuilding trust…this starts at the top with Mayor, Councillors, CAO,” reads the report.
The audit noted that councillors and senior management were concerned all available information wasn’t being fully circulated prior to making decisions; that budget impacts were overlooked when discussing major projects; and that council asked to proceed on major projects without a business plan.
Administration leadership issues were also identified, as the audit found there was no accountability and that the current organization structure is viewed as an impediment to achieving council’s goals.
Further concerns in the audit include the undermining of staff by elected officials, potential for more good managers to leave the city if conditions do not improve, and a loss of hope in the current council and its willingness to tackle major issues.
The audit found that staff morale had plummeted; however, a recent change in leadership is ‘very welcome by management.’
Human resources was a key issue, as the city had been operating without a human resources manager since February 2018, after senior leadership “decided that this important function was not living up to implied expectations,” according to the audit.
One recommendation included new position descriptions for management, new performance management systems, and a proactive management training system aimed at all levels of the organization.
“Human resources is a matter of concern in large measure because there has not been suitable attention paid to how management are being recruited, assessed and trained,” reads the audit.
A human resources manager was hired late last year, filling the role that had been vacant for just under two years.
Further human resources recommendations include the adoption of a whistleblower policy, work-safe policies and adding the annual impact of personnel severance costs into municipal budgeting.
There has been staff turnover dating back to 2016, according to Statements of Financial Information (SOFI) documents that identify items such as management salaries and severance agreements. That information must be filed annually with the provincial government.
Between 2016-2017, seven severance agreements for non-union contract positions were reported by the city, according to the SOFI documents.
Severance agreements were obtained through a freedom of information request, which collectively add up to five separate payouts totalling $257,000. One severance was a $130,000 payout, while at least two contracts were terminated without cause.
Two lawsuits in recent years have been filed against the city as a result of human resources issues.
One former employee filed notice to sue the city in 2017; however, the lawsuit was discontinued 21 days later — the maximum required deadline for defendants to file a response.
The lawsuit alleged that a long-time employee experienced intimidation from a senior manager, and that her contract was unilaterally altered, which resulted in a suspension from her duties and reassignment to a new position, which she considered a contract termination.
The provincial community charter stipulates that terminating a corporate officer contract requires the matter be brought before mayor and council for an affirmative two-thirds vote, which never happened in this particular case, according to the notice of claim.
All allegations were untested and unproven in a B.C. court of law.
The city is also currently being sued as a third party by a former consultant, in response to a former city employee who filed a lawsuit against the consultant alleging that mishandled privacy information resulted in his job loss. In turn, the consultant launched legal action against the city, alleging a senior manager’s distrust of staff led to the mismanagement of privacy information.