How does a five year contract get filled in 26 months? Calgary is paying Fielding just $65,000 more. His leaving is not about money.

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

April 15, 2014.


Mayor Goldring noticed Thursday afternoon that he had an appointment on his calendar with the city manager – it wasn’t one he was aware of and thought he might have gotten something mixed up.

Perhaps he wishes there had been a mix up – when the meeting did take place Jeff Fielding, who has been with the city for just 26 months, advised the Mayor that he was going to accept a position as the city manager for the city of Calgary.

That news was a blow to many, perhaps not all that bothersome for some members of Council who may have experienced some indigestion as a result of Fielding’s style.  He has said to this council on more than one occasion to “just do your jobs”.

Fielding, sold himself to Calgary as  “pretty much a financial conservative,” and touted his detailed service-based approach as designed for public digestion. “It begins a dialogue within the community about whether they’re getting value or not,” he said.

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi, one of the most admired Mayors in the country, held Calgary together during the Spring floods in Alberta.  He has the electorate in that city in the palm of his hand; few council members dare oppose what he suggests.  Staff in Calgary are said to bridle at some of his approaches.  Burlington’s Mayor was putty for Fielding – he will have his hands more than full with Nenshi.

The Calgary decision to hire Fielding was the culmination of a months-long competition that included international applicants and at least two City of Calgary general managers. So – while we didn’t know it, Fielding was on his way out the door before we had finalized our budget for 2014.

Calgary is not new to Fielding – he once worked in that city’s planning department more than a decade ago.

Calgary is a different municipal beast: it is western Canada’s largest city that keeps building new suburbs on farm fields.

Fielding was a great breath of fresh air for Burlington.   He brought focus and discipline to just about everything.  There are more than a dozen staff members, not all senior people, who have grown professionally under Fielding’s guiding hand.

They will miss him both personally and professionally and now they have to try and pick up from where he has left them – and Fielding hasn’t exactly left the city in great shape.

The approach to service based budgeting that he convinced the city to take on is far from complete and while the city has some top notch people working on getting the budget for 2015 set up for the new approach – none are experts and don’t bring the almost evangelical drive Fielding brought to making the people who decide responsible and accountable for their decisions.

It is going to be very difficult to maintain the progress that has been made to date on the service based budget concept.  We are newbies at this and we don’t have a leader with the depth needed to put it into place.  We will soldier through – but it would have been easier with Fielding at the helm.

The city is on the hook for a $300,000 – three year contract for the services provided by Angus Reid and his son’s Critical Vision operation.  Fielding knew he needed faster feedback from the public and called the tool “Insight Burlington”.  His staff  was in the process of fine tuning the service.  So far all his team had managed to do was get one question out.  That tool might sit on the shelf with Fielding gone.

Perhaps that three year contract with Critical Vision is similar to the contract Fielding had with the city. I thought a five year contract ran for sixty month – Fielding has put in 26 months.  Personally, I argue that having taken the city down the service based budgeting path we knew little about, Fielding had an obligation to stick around long enough to complete the job – another year would make a big difference.

During the last budget Fielding told the cultural community he would do his best to find the funds needed to hire a Cultural Manager.  Kiss that one goodbye.

The city will be into mediation on the legal problems left over from the construction of the pier – the project that went from $6.7 million in 2006 and ballooned to more than $14 million and it isn’t over yet.

Fielding took the financial file and the legal file out of the hands of General Manager Kim Phillips – left her with Parks and Recreation and fire stations and was the lead hand on the working relationship with the city’s solicitor and the lawyers handling the city’s law suits.  Those lawyers started off suing on behalf of the city and now find that the tables have turned and they are defending themselves against the claims of the original contractor.  Fielding had meetings with the lawyers the city engaged to map out a mediation strategy.  He was expected to be the lead talker for the city. We would have been well served with him at the table.

Fielding was deeply involved in the longer term thinking on how we get something useful out of the downtown core and had a team looking at what we have in the way of physical assets and what we don’t have, including a city hall that doesn’t have room for all those people on the payroll.

There have been renewed discussions with McMaster University and the use of the Elizabeth Street parking lot – some of the people involved in those discussions were stunned when they read the news of Fielding’s departure.

Fielding did a superb job in maintaining the staff compliment and held salary increases to 1%.  He could be really hardnosed when it was necessary.  The Seniors’ are going to miss him – he gave them everything but a new kitchen sink for their operation.

Burlington paid Fielding $249,940,24 in 2013 plus $8,898.60 in taxable benefits.  Calgary is going to pay him $319,000 plus a possible 10% bonus.

So where does Burlington go from here?  Does the city call in a recruiting company and ask them to begin running ads?  Does Council do what they did when they parted ways with Roman Martiuk and have General Managers Stewart and Phillips carry the ball until Fielding was hired?

Scott Stewart was one of the applicants for the job of city manager and got beat out by Fielding.  Is Stewart ready now for the top job?  He has been doing a large part of it for the past year; carrying a lot of the weight this past six months. Fielding has done a great job of grooming Stewart.

City Council will meet in a Special session Tuesday after the scheduled Corporate and Community Services meeting.  That will be a closed session with perhaps Executive Director of Human Resources Roy Male serving as the pro tem Clerk.

This is a vital meeting for this council.  There are those who believe the Mayor is on for someone to serve as an interim city manager while Councillor Sharman has something up his sleeve but wasn’t prepared to say anything more than that.

Mayor Goldring has described Sharman as the best strategic thinker on council and relies heavily on his advice – which Sharman very willingly gives.

Council does have one other alternative.  Former city manager Roman Martiuk is looking for work – perhaps he would take on a short term assignment.

High performance executives do not leave for money. They leave because they are frustrated or handicapped/handcuffed from achieving success by the very culture of the company.Back in 2012 the city was given an opportunity to accept an offer from the insurance company that carried the performance bond to assure the completion of the pier.  Council turned that one down – with very little time spent considering the offer.  They instead issued a new tender – and we paid even more for the pier than originally planned.

There is an opportunity for a really sensible decision to be made on Tuesday.  Don’t blow this one.

The last word on this sad situation for today comes from a reader’s comment: High performance executives do not leave for money. They leave because they are frustrated or handicapped/handcuffed from achieving success by the very culture of the company.

That sounds a lot like why Frank McKeown quit as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.

Fielding leaves his desk May 16 and starts work in Calgary June 2, 2014′

Return to the Front page
Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 comments to How does a five year contract get filled in 26 months? Calgary is paying Fielding just $65,000 more. His leaving is not about money.

  • Susan Lewis

    It crossed my mind that he may have been asked to leave.

    I’m remembering an article the Burlington Gazette posted on Feb. 22 entitled “Why a “discussion concerning the City Manager’s Performance Evaluation” now?

    I certainly hope I’m wrong. I really like Mr. Fielding and what he was in the process of accomplishing.

  • Mr. Wonderful

    Who cares about Fielding. The bum should have stayed around longer to advance what he started. Another example of a simple servant bouncing in and out of high profile high responsibility roles for personal selfish gains; read his acceptance script when he got the job and how he loves the community and its time for settling down and all that crap.

    The City should have known about Fielding’s accomplishments at his last posting in the City of London.

    Fielding; lots of ideas, expensive ideas, but no results. Frustrated at City Hall? tough, that’s part of the gig.

    What the hell is everybody talking about? If we applied his results based model for measuring output, what would be his scoring, what would be his net positive results/successes for this city over the past 26 months?

    Go spend Calgary’s money.

    I would love to read Fielding’s acceptance speech in Calgary; “oh its time for my family to move back to our roots, after doing nothing in other parts of the country…blah blah blah”.

    I’m going back to sleep, and I have a complaint to the editor that the new upgrades to this site are lousy and the font is difficult to read. Go back to the old version; you have time now that nothing is going on at City Hall.

  • Gary Scobie

    I appreciated Mr. Fielding’s no nonsense approach and his strategic initiative for a service-based, accountable administration at City Hall. I am concerned that this initiative may falter if his replacement is not so service focused.

    This comes at an unfortunate time as we begin election season and will likely end up with quite a different council than we have today.

  • I have watched Mr Fielding work, much more closely over the past 6 months and have been impressed with his execution. The service based approach is something that I see as critical for a City like Burlington that is reaching “Maturity”. It needed someone with a strong vision and the ability and desire to drive through what will definitely be a bumpy road. Mr Fielding seemed to have that and will be very hard to replace.

    Calgary is fortunate to have him. Good Luck out West!!