Challenges ahead with resignation of City of Nanaimo’s top manager

NANAIMO – City management has one general manager left, with two resignations and one on sick leave.

Huge challenges lie ahead of the City of Nanaimo, including a decision on the size and quality of its leadership team, according to city manager Ted Swabey, whose resignation was announced Friday.

Swabey, who rose through the municipality’s ranks over 24 years to become city manager, has quit the City of Nanaimo to take a chief administration officer position at the City of Maple Ridge. His last day is Nov. 13.

It was two years ago that Nanaimo’s top bureaucrat stepped into his new role, starting his tenure with a city hall shuffle anticipated to be the largest restructuring in recent history. Two buyouts were offered and seven high-level positions were axed as part of changes that led to a $1-million annual savings.

Swabey said in the later part of his career, and as city manager, his goal was to always keep challenging himself even if that meant looking at opportunities in larger communities and Maple Ridge resonated with him as a place full of growth.

“That was one of the big tipping points for me. I am really aligned with a community that’s in growth and wants to do things,” he said, adding that Nanaimo is more in a state of transition, with politicians considering strategic priorities and what the public service will look like after a core review.

He said this council has demonstrated its interested in investigating past decisions and service delivery and while there’s nothing wrong with that, it’s going to consume it for three years. When a community talks about what it did wrong more than what it’s going to do, it’s an environment of negativity and “it’s not the type of environment that I thrive in,” he said.

Swabey, who takes over the new CAO job in Maple Ridge in December, said he’s extremely proud of the things he’s been involved in at the City of Nanaimo, as well as staff members and the relationships the city has with other organizations.

He anticipates challenges ahead for city council on the question of its leadership team and what it wants from it. Ian Howat, general manager of corporate services, has just resigned after a decade in the municipality to take a CAO position at the City of Colwood and Toby Seward, acting general manager of community development and protective services, is on sick leave. It leaves only one general manager at the municipality.

“Of course, if they ask me I will provide advice, but they have to decide what kind of leadership team, size and quality it would like to move forward,” Swabey said.

Mayor Bill McKay said the resignation was a shock and Swabey is going to leave a huge hole. He’s well respected in the planning and development committee and has a ‘you lead and I will follow’ management style with council.

“I am very pleased for him. He’s going to do very well,” said McKay, who notes that council is going to have to get an interim city manager as soon as possible.

Coun. Gord Fuller called the changes with upper senior management the best opportunity Nanaimo has had in decades to make changes in the way things are done at the city.

“Most of the people that have been our managers and senior managers have been around Nanaimo for a few decades and employed with Nanaimo for a few decades, so they’ve got certain ideas about how things get done,” he said. “This could be a fresh start.”

Coun. Wendy Pratt could see it coming, but said she’s still devastated and unhappy about what’s happened with staff members. The city has lost virtually all of its city staff with the exception of one or two, but Seward is on sick leave and she understands Tom Hickey, general manager of community services, will retire this spring.

“These were all good people we didn’t need to lose,” she said, later adding she’s sorry to lose an “extremely good” city manager and very competent manager of corporate services.

City council will meet with its director of human resources Tuesday (Oct. 27) to determine next steps for its leadership team.

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