City hall staff: There is the possibility that some of the really good ones will be gone. It will be our loss.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

December 7th, 2018



It has been a tumultuous week for the city – and for the staff at city hall.

city hall with flag poles

If there is a morale meter at city hall it isn’t giving a very high rating these days.

The City manager left the building on Tuesday, no word yet on who the interim city manager is going to be.

There is a Deputy city manager in place so things won’t spin out of control.

There are people in the city delighted with the dismissal of the city manager; they have hopes that there will be a few more dismissals in the not too distant future.

While all this takes place there’s serious damage being done to the mid-level people who do all the grunt work.

Burlington has a number of superb staffers, I could name more than 100 people, that I have worked with, talked to that are sincere, professional and very good at their jobs. They are career civil servants who work hard to manage hard issues.

One has to wonder how many are polishing their resumes and looking around for a better place to work. There are a lot of benefits to working in the municipal sector; the money is good, the benefits terrific and the pension grand.

And those things matter but that isn’t why the really good people get up every morning, go out the door and take on the tasks they have to deal with.

Burlington has some real issues that are complex and won’t yield to a simple answer.

The really good men and woman are well aware of the problems and they are more than capable of finding solutions. With a few exceptions they have not been well led. They do deserve better.

They will sign out at city hall this afternoon, head home to their families and wonder just where things at city hall are going to be six months from now.

There is the possibility that some of the really good ones will be gone; some into the private sector others with a different municipality. It will be our loss.

Pepper - Gazette shirt - no smileSalt with Pepper is an opinion column reflecting the observations and musings of the publisher of the Gazette, an on-line newspaper that is in its 8th year as a news source in Burlington and is a member of the National Newsmedia Council.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

8 comments to City hall staff: There is the possibility that some of the really good ones will be gone. It will be our loss.

  • Phllip Wooster

    The cultural shift which has occurred at City Hall involves a major shift in the approach of the City Hall bureaucracy. Undoubtedly there are some excellent people working at City Hall but for too long, the focus has been on City Hall—a belief that the residents are there to serve them. My recent experience in the past two years confirms that two city department managers did nothing when I approached them with a problem, necessitating two lawsuits–one I won, the other I lost. I believe that the new mayor and council have established a resident-focused focus which staff have a choice to buy into or be replaced.

    • Hans

      I too had an issue a few years ago with an unresponsive city department. When I said, in desperation, that I would contact the mayor, the city employee simply said “go ahead”.
      It was a rather urgent problem and it was resolved quickly and appropriately after I wrote to councilors and the mayor. It should not have come to that, but I had no other choice. That experience made it clear to me that there was a lack of “customer focus” in the city hall culture, at least in that department. I am optimistic that there will be an improvement with the new regime.

      • Phllip Wooster

        Interestingly I contacted both Goldring and Dennison over the past 6 years regarding problems impacting our street in general and my house in particular. And while in a couple of these situations, both of them contacted department managers, they had negligible impact. The managers continued to do nothing and I quickly realized that the bureaucrats were running the show at City Hall.

        • Hans

          My councillor at the time was Ms. Lancaster but had I copied MMW as well, and mayor Goldring. Hopefully there will be big improvements in the attitudes of the City Hall bureaucrats, now that it’s under new leadership.

  • Stephen White

    Organizational change is difficult, and some cope with it better than others. Unfortunately, you don’t make an omelette without cracking eggs, and you don’t change a dysfunctional corporate culture without changing the key players who created and sustained it.

    The voters clearly expressed a desire for a major paradigm shift on October 22nd. The Mayor is delivering on that desire for change, and kudos to her for initiating it sooner than later. She needs to have people in key leadership roles who buy into her agenda, and whose values, perspective and philosophy are akin to hers. That doesn’t mean that she squelches dissent, but it does mean that she surrounds herself with those who will adhere to the fundamental precepts on which she campaigned. Some in the City administration will adapt and opt in, some will leave voluntarily, and unfortunately, some will need to be terminated. Replacing those who depart provides an opportunity for renewal, and not replacing positions provides a segue for organizational restructuring.

    This type of change happens at all levels of government when there is a change in political leadership, and it is both natural and expected. Burlington is not immune to it. What makes it surprising perhaps is that we haven’t had a municipal leader in recent memory who was as strategic and laser focused as the new Mayor.

  • steven craig gardner

    I could not agree more with you Pepper. In my various volunteer roles within Burlington i have met and worked with many many city staff over the years and I have found them all to be amazing. Helpful, dedicated, professional. Over the past while I have felt sorry for them as it seems some people frustrated with things paint all city staff with the same brush. You should not have to be thick skinned or be bullied to hold a city job, but on a number of occasions that is what seems to be happening in our city. I hope people carry with them into 2019 the spirit of Christmas and be nice to one another and ensure criticism when deserved is directed at the correct parties (be it council and the Mayor as mistakes will happen or city department heads/staff) and not paint all with the same brush as has been done in the past. I don’t think we can afford to lose many what with a council that only has one person with experience in their role. We need all the bench strength we can get.