City manager tells his staff to not 'let the nastiness get you down. We have your back.'

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

October 2nd, 2018



In an email that we believe was sent to city hall staff by the city manager James Ridge had the following to say:

One of the reasons I applied to be Burlington’s City Manager almost four years ago is because of the stellar reputation Burlington has. It is known coast to coast as a city that for decades has been well governed, well managed, and blessed with professional and talented public servants (all of you). Nothing in my time here has changed my opinion, in fact I believe that even more powerfully now. This is an exceptional public service organization filled with exceptional people who I am proud to have as colleagues.

James Ridge - looking right

City manager, James Ridge.

We are, however, in the midst of a particularly nasty election campaign. While much of the campaign is respectful and focused on policy not personalities, there are sadly elements of the new wave of toxic populism that invariably includes attacks, not just on the institution the candidate wants to govern, but also on the professional public servants in that institution. The radioactive accelerant for this brand of populism are those corners of social media popular with people who are convinced they are smarter than everyone else, and who get some sort of twisted pleasure out of demeaning others.

I know in talking too many of you over the summer that you are feeling the impact of this, and I want to assure you personally and directly that we have your back. All of us on the Burlington Leadership Team are monitoring everything that is being said and written, as well as on social media. We will remain apolitical, but will address any candidates who demean or threaten staff, and we will file formal Media Council complaints where needed. If somebody comes after your reputation, or questions your integrity and professionalism, we will push back.

Ridge and Chris Murray - city managers

Burlington city manager James Ridge with Hamilton city manager Chris Murray – before they met to negotiate the purchase of some water lots the city rents from Hamilton. Hamilton took a pass on the Burlington offer.

Recently a candidate publicly committed to firing an entire department if elected. There are two important facts for you to remember: One member of Council can’t fire anyone, let alone a whole department. Even a majority of Council can fire only their one employee; me, and defending you when you can’t defend yourself is my most important responsibility. So please don’t lose a moment’s sleep worrying about this sort of empty posturing.

I ask you to keep on doing the excellent work you do, keep your heads up, be proud of the contributions you make to this community, and don’t let the nastiness get you down. We have your back.”

Our source gave us the the following comments:

“I have heard from a few different people that this went by email to all staff on September 26th from Burlington City Manager, James Ridge.

“I know several staff were concerned that this crosses the line between a neutral civil service and one that is partisan. I find this sort of behaviour to be both unacceptable and offensive. It is clearly targeted at a specific cadre of candidates.”

The Gazette asked Kwab Ako-Adjei | Senior Manager, Government Relations & Strategic Communications if the memo was actually sent to city staff.  His reply was:  “Yes, James sent that. If you do run the story we would hope that the memo is posted in its entirety so it’s not taken out of context.”

The Gazette has two other sources – all have asked to remain unidentified.

It is indeed a nasty election.

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

10 comments to City manager tells his staff to not ‘let the nastiness get you down. We have your back.’

  • Stephen White

    Toxic populism! Radioactive accelerant! Empty posturing! Wow! Talk about hyperbole in the extreme.

    This memo rivals anything Donald Trump could churn out and post on Twitter. Pity Mr. Ridge doesn’t invest as much time and attention in engaging and communicating meaningfully with citizens as he does tossing grenades at members at them….the same citizens I might add whose taxes pay his salary.

    • Michael


      MMW threatens to fire the Planning/Building Department and you compare Mr. Ridge to Trump? Give your head a shake. You just prey on here for people you have divering opinions than yours.

      Good on the City Manager (who I know first hand is very well liked by staff) for sticking up for staff- MMW should ask him advice on leadership!

      • Peter

        This is utterly false. MMW never threatened to fire the Planning Department. Rather, it was a candidate in Ward 6. Please stop spreading unfounded information.

  • joe gaetan

    Good advise to all candidates don’t let he nastiness get you down. As former head of H.R for a major corp my approach would have been a face to face with my staff.

  • Just Saying

    Bingo Steven! Nothing quite like having your livelihood threatened by someone trying to score political points. A great Manager supports his or her staff and that’s all that was done here.

  • Laura

    I see nothing wrong with this .It is a nasty election and working in the public sector during an election can be overwhelming and tough .He is supporting his staff. That’s what management should do.

  • Tom Muir

    Mr Ridge should know that he can’t totally insulate his staff from all calls for accountability, and questions concerning staff independence, professionalism, objectivity and integrity.

    The city and Council try to avoid calls for staff accountability with their restriction on freedom of speech for delegates to Committee and Council who are raising issues and questions that bear on how staff measures up.

    It’s an effective censorship tool, as citizens only get to speak to Council Committees in public for 10 minutes (or 5 minutes at Council), about the really big issues that staff have obvious and powerful influence on.

    This arrangement cannot possibly provide an adequate opportunity for staff to be called upon by citizens to explain their actions and decisions.

    The idea that staff are inherently free of conflicts of actions and objectivity in these situations is not at all credible.

    So, everyone will not be intimidated or bullied into silence by Mr Ridge’s rhetoric. Indeed, in my view he just stoked the furnace of discontent, and stirred things up that were likely best left to rest.

    A calling to account may be lingering in the wings. If the staff are feeling some impact of this unrest, maybe they know this better than Mr. Ridge apparently does.

    There really is no place to hide from this forever. No one is untouchable.

  • Leslie

    I wonder if Ridge has also reprimanded current members of council for demeaning comments towards candidates, or for coming after a candidate’s reputation, or for questioning a candidate’s integrity and professionalism…

    • Hans

      It would be better if Mr. Ridge didn’t promise what he can’t deliver; Burlington goes through city managers at a higher rate than most other municipalities.

  • steven craig gardner

    Excellent manager wish i had ones as good in my jobs. Nothing wrong with supporting your staff when thye are attacked by trump type candidates who should not be considered electable.