Renfrew council still discussing municipal administration models

·7 min read

Renfrew -- A report is expected at the next Renfrew council meeting with recommendations on how to move forward with the reorganizational structure of office administration.

The structure is currently operated by a Senior Management Team (SMT) and there has been ongoing discussions recently whether to change to a Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) model.

At the Committee of the Whole meeting held virtually November 10, Stephen Fournier of Fournier Consultants reviewed the addendum to the second draft of the report, which was clarifying the term of interim CAO. He noted he changed the wording to transitional facilitator because that’s what the job will be, to facilitate the change from SMT model to CAO model, if that is the way council agrees to go.

“The purpose of the facilitator is to assist council and the Senior Management Team with the transition of the organization to a CAO administrative model,” he said. “The focus will be working out details and facilitating. I’ve also included key steps and tasks.

“I’ve given a clearer understanding of the roles of Senior Management Team, council and Interim CAO.”

Mr. Fournier reminded council there are two options: assign the role and tasks to a current member of the SMT or hire someone with experience.

He noted he was to bring the names of people with experience forward to council, however, the two he usually uses are no longer available. One is now a mayor of a municipality while the other retained a full-time CAO position, he said.

The revised work implementation plan has also been changed as no final decision has yet been made to move forward, Mr. Fournier said, adding, it’s still a six-month project time-line.

When it was time for council to ask questions or make comments, Mayor Don Eady suggested members of the SMT be allowed to have a say.

Parks and Recreation Director Kevin Hill said he feels council has made the unofficial decision to hire someone with experience.

“Why is option one not being considered?” he questioned. “There are five SMT members who have served this municipality for a number of years.”

He asked if each member of council could say why they are leaning towards option two.

Public Works Director Michel Asselin said the idea for reorganization was because the SMT members are getting older and this is one exit strategy that was being decided on.

“We are not making a radical change, but using the best strategy to get to the future,” he said. “So far, there doesn’t seem to be a decision the council is ready to make a change today.

“There are a lot of unknown facts, including cost for one. Do we have the office space to accommodate a new structure? There’s a lot of work to do before council can say yes, let’s implement the CAO model.”

Treasurer Keray O’Reilly agreed with Mr. Asselin, asking what is the end goal of council, what is the model council wants to go with: CAO or continue with SMT?

Fire Chief Kevin Welsh noted while he is the junior member of the SMT, this is a decision that should not be made in a hurry.

“I’m questioning if the report hasn’t raised more questions than when we started,” he said. “If we are to take a path forward, it needs to be well thought out and clearly consider all the options, inclusive of all of the ramifications.”

Clerk Kim Bulmer, who is on vacation this week, was also able to get into the meeting. The clerk since 1991, this is the only system he has worked in and is supportive of the structure review. He believes the senior managers should be a part of the transition and that whatever the decision, the lines of communication must remain open.

“I look forward to council’s decision and moving forward positively,” he said.

Mayor Eady then asked each member of council to answer Mr. Hill’s question of why they seemed to be learning towards Option Two.

He said he is leaning towards Option Two because if a senior manager is appointed interim facilitator, there is no way that person can do the facilitator’s job and their own job, which means back-filling that person’s job.

“It’s cheaper to go with a facilitator than move a senior manager to the facilitator’s role,” he said. “I’m hearing, and I know, everyone is at capacity, so it’s just not possible for one of them to step up and do their own job at the same time.”

Councillor Andrew Evans said he’s not in a hurry to change from the current SMT structure, noting, “it’s not a cheap move at all.” He said he appreciates the work and effort of all members of the SMT.

Councillor Tom Sydney said he is not taking this decision lightly and that an option has not been decided on.

“We are looking at moving Renfrew forward in a 2020 year, not 1965,” he said.

Some members of the “great leadership” team the town has now are looking to retire within the next three to five years.

“Renfrew is very, very blessed to have the group we do have now, but some will soon be retiring to less stressful opportunities,” Coun. Sydney said. “The work ethics of a lot of people who are in retiring mode are not the same ethics as those who are coming up the chains.”

He questioned if there are people who can fulfil the positions quality-wise, experience-wise and knowledge-wise.

“They may not be at the level the town of Renfrew needs as it goes forward, especially with the double-laning of Highway 17,” he said, which is why the CAO option is possibly the best option.

Councillor Arlene Jamieson said all members of the SMT are doing a great job, it’s just not possible to choose one over the other to be the facilitator.

“They all add something,” she said.

She noted the amount of growth now, and in the future, is not something the SMT can handle.

“If they are busy now, in three to five years we’ll have to replace SMTs with other people.

“We need to give the CAO a serious look, we need someone to keep everybody working together. As one (SMT) retires, there wouldn’t be such a big shock to keep the transition going.”

Coun. Jamieson has spoken with members of municipalities who have the CAO structure and most have said the CAO model is the way to go.

The town has invested in “so many employees” over the years in training and education and gaining valuable experience, yet many continue to leave their job for other municipalities, she said.

“We are losing them,” she said. “We train them hoping they will stay and yet they aren’t. I know it’s a part of life, but maybe they are leaving because they feel there is no place to advance within the town.”

Councillor Mike Coulas said the reason this review is being done is because SMT members will be retiring and it’s time to look for a different way to deal with management rather than consistently repeating the same thing over and over.

A CAO model would also allow a council member to go to one person with a concern instead of deciding which SMT to bring a concern to, he said.

Mayor Eady said he is in favour of Option Two for the reasons already stated by other council members, but he wants to analyze the costs first.

“Our senior managers are overworked, especially with COVID,” he said. “They have put in so many extra hours and many have not taken their holidays yet.”

This review “will tell us a lot of things…maybe it will relieve the pressure of the SMT,” he said.

Councillor Sandi Heins was not able to attend the meeting due to a health issue.

In the end, council agreed that Mr. Fournier and the SMT would bring a report back to the November 24 council meeting as to how they see moving forward in the future.

“As in all our reports that we bring forward, there will be recommendations to choose from,” Mr. Asselin said.

Connie Tabbert, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Eganville Leader