New city manager takes a pay cut to come to Burlington where he can ride his bike to work.

By Pepper Parr

BURLINGTON, ON  December 5, 2011  Burlington’s new city manager, he gets the keys to his office January 30th, leaves London, Ontario with a sigh of relief and delighted, we think, to be out of a job that was a mess and looking to get messier due to being led by a city Council that had what my Mom called “eyes bigger than my belly”.

Jeff Fielding is coming to Burlington as the City Manager leaving London, a city that is more than twice Burlington’s size.

Fielding’s career has taken him through an ever-increasing responsibilities in Winnipeg, Edmonton, Calgary, Kitchener and then London.  Fielding will move from managing a budget here that reached $718 million to one in Burlington barely one-quarter that size.

Jeff Fielding, coming to Burlington as the new city manager, will get to know his staff and develop close working rlationships with a team he will want to refurbish a bit. Expect to meet a very relaxed man - delighted to be in Burlington and away from a city council that had difficulties with big investments on a tax rate the Mayor in London, ON didn't want to see rise.

Fielding is quoted as saying:  “I’ve got a family and they need my time and that’s one of the great things about being in a mid-sized (city).” Fielding leaves a post that paid him $264,000 in salary and taxable benefits last year, for one that last year paid $217,000.

In 2004 Fielding became London’s fifth city manager in two years, taking over a city hall in turmoil, some of its top managers at each others’ throats and a culture of distrust between politicians and bureaucrats.  The fiscal task here was mammoth: Council had spent the city deeply into debt and discipline was needed to right the ship.  Fielding helped restore a sense of calm and purpose with a low-key, direct style and a preference for compromise over confrontation.

While there were sometimes rumblings behind doors about a tense relationship between Fielding and his top lieutenant, former finance chief Vic Cote, the two put aside differences in council to set politicians down a path of spending restraint.

Cote retired last year and now Fielding will soon be gone, leaving London council without the steady hands of the past as politicians struggle to achieve the goals and visions of Mayor Joe Fontana, who has promised tax freezes and called for massive investment in projects downtown and along the Hwy. 401.

With that kind of experience under his belt Fielding should have no trouble at all whipping Burlington’s finances into shape real fast and coming up with a way to resolve the 68% that we are short on our infrastructure budget.

Former city manager Tim Dobbie may not have much time to put his feet up as he replaces the London city manager who resigned in London to work for Burlington. These guys play musical chairs.

Tim Dobbie, who was city manager in Burlington for a period of time under Mayor MacIsaac, has been hired by London to manage things over there until they have a replacement hired.  Dobbie left Burlington for health reasons –

London councillor Joni Baechler described Fielding as ”a fine, dedicated and humble individual that led us to really get our financial house in order. I am concerned that without that steady hand a lot of things can be potentially at risk.”

“It’s tough to be a top manager when council’s expectation is that you’ll be a superman. There are some goals that are irreconcilable, so there had to be a sense of frustration that comes with that task,” Baechler said.

It looks as if Fielding is leaving pastures that had a lot of muck in them and coming to Burlington, where there will be a lot less grief in his day to day life.  He has been to Burlington on a few occasions and ridden around town on his bike.  One council member is very keen on the man and thinks Fielding is exactly what the city needs and described him as a man who understands and has a commitment to customer service.

That will be nice.

Burlington has some problems within the upper reaches of it staffing hierarchy that Fielding will want to resolve quickly – once he’s got his team tightened up and in place – it could be five years of pretty smooth sailing for the man.  Ideally an opportunity for Burlington to re-orient itself from a city that has in the recent past relied heavily on development charges for revenue to one that prepares for a twenty year stretch of caring for an older population and at the same time moving the city further up the economic food chain and attracting companies to the city that are more into the hi-tech field.  That should be a cinch for this guy – but the proof of the pudding is in the eating.



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