City hall staff to be collectively accountable and asked to ‘up the pace`. That`s good news.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  August 23, 2012  When an organization brings in a new leader expect changes – that`s why the new leader was brought in.

City Manager Jeff Fielding, formerly with London, Ontario has been with Burlington for six months now and staff are getting a clearer picture of how he operates.

The city manager has traditionally used an office on the 8th floor, steps away from the Mayor.  Fielding has decided to move down to the 6th floor, where he will have an office with his General Managers.  Fielding wants to be where his team works and not two floors above them.

He has re-aligned some of the departments that report to the three general managers the city employs.  Two, Kim Phillips and Scott Stewart are in place and a third will be hired in the fall to replace Steve Zorbas.

General Manager Scott Stewart wants his staff to be sharp, come up with good ideas, deliver great service and have some fun while they are at it.  Here he models his vacation wear. Councillor John Taylor is on the left with MP Mike Wallace on the right

General Manager Scott Stewart heads up what has been called community services – that has been renamed to General Manager Development and Infrastructure.  Kim Phillips heads up what has been called Budget and Corporate Services – that will be called Corporate Services.

A third General Manager will be hired in the fourth quarter of the year and Fielding let it be known that third person could well come from within the organization.  Bruce Zvaniga, who has done some excellent work recently, is serving as Acting City Manager while Stewart is on vacation.  Expect Bruce to be polishing up his resume when the job is posted.

The building on Brant Street is becoming a different city hall.  The budget process the city goes through this year will focus on where the city should be investing funds and not get tangled up in the weeds of  how much should be spent on pencils and paper clips.

Soft spoken, direct, wants his people to be creative and bring him new ideas and then expects them to deliver on those ideas. Some staff members will not meet that challenge but for those that do, and there are lots of them, the city is going to be a great place to work. City Manager Jeff Fielding is changing the culture at city hall.

In a past budget a senior staff member spent time explaining what some software would do – it was an upgrade of a program used all over the world.  Fielding doesn`t want his staff spending time like this.  He wants his staff to do forward thinking and will be bringing what he calls a business case approach to deciding the business the city should be in and what they shouldn’t be doing.

For Fielding it is a matter of supporting the staff in what they do, have them see themselves as collectively accountable to the public for the way the city is run.  He also wants them to pick up the pace.  This is certainly not the approach that was operational at city hall with the previous city manager.

For many of the sharper people at city hall it will be seen as a blessing – an opportunity for them to be both accountable and creative.

Fielding commented on a meeting he took part in earlier in the day when staff was making a presentation.  The ideas they put forward “almost brought tears to my eyes”.

Economic development is going to get much more attention from city hall as is investments elsewhere in the city.  Community Development Halton has been asked to prepare a business case for an approach to serving the city that will see funds invested in neighbourhoods.  Joey Edwardh, Executive Director of CDH has been asked to develop a business case and bring it back to the management team where it will get discussed, debated and some recommendations developed that get taken to city council committee.

The Economic Development Corporation has been asked to produce a new business case as well.  Fielding sees the EDC as an investment the city makes – and if that investment is paying off – then it should continue. Operations will continue if the business case can justify them; if not, then the question asked will be: Why are we doing this?

These business cases will be put before Council and they will decide which ones they want to fund.

Fielding tells of the 45 different services the city provides.  Each is looked at, reviewed and a case for continuing with the service is put forward and Council decides which they want to continue and which should be abandoned.

For Fielding it is a matter of delivering service.  Staff will be asked to make the business case and uses something as simple as the sending of an invoice.  It costs the city $1 to mail an invoice but just 40 cents to send it via the web. You can see where he is going with this kind of thinking.

Master University is developing a three year program that will significantly improve the management skills of senior and middle management staff at city hall. As many as 150 staff members will be taking courses over a three year period.

Staff development is getting much more attention.  The city is about to conclude an agreement with the DeGroote campus of McMaster University that will have staff taking courses designed specifically for the city.  Paul Bates, Andrea Mior at McMaster and Laura Boyd and Roy Male at city hall are working this up – we may see more than thousands of children heading back to classrooms in the fall.

Fielding is asking much more of his staff than they have been used to.  Those that see civic administration as a career opportunity will meet the challenge while others will begin to feel very uncomfortable at city hall. Fielding added that salaries at city hall will reflect the cost of living increases but staff won`t be getting all of it.  “We are coming in a little below the actual cost of living increases.”

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