New city manager launches significant shake up

City manager Ted Swabey has announced a reorganization of city hall that includes department mergers and administration changes.

Nanaimo’s new top bureaucrat has offered two buyouts and axed seven high-level positions in a major city hall shake-up.

City manager Ted Swabey announced the internal restructuring at an open meeting Monday, calling it a chance to cut costs and hit the “reset button” on how the organization meets the needs of the community and council.

The reorganization – anticipated to be one of the largest at city hall in recent history – will save Nanaimo an estimated $1 million annually by the second year and help officials better address strategic priorities and succession planning, according to Swabey.

As part of the change, the city will see a new cultural division and the merger of several departments. The leadership team will also be dissolved to make way for direct reporting between senior employees and the city manager’s office; seven high-level positions will be cut and two directors offered buyouts. The terms of the buyouts are still being negotiated.

Swabey says the shuffle will add younger employees to the management deck. With half of the senior management team eligible to retire in the next five years, the new faces are the next wave of top-level city staff and part of its succession strategy, he said.

The changes are also expected to help line up the city’s internal structure with four main priorities in the strategic plan, including cultural vitality.

Swabey said people might have questioned how the city is addressing culture and whether it was considered important because they couldn’t see where it fit into the organization.

Now, there will be an independent culture and heritage department in place for two years.

“Every time a renewal is needed in an organization, a new manager comes in or a new council or a new strategic plan, it’s a very common part of the process to make sure your structure aligns with your priorities,” Swabey said.

“I am very excited about it … there are opportunities for us and staff to be engaged and enthusiastic about the direction we are going.”

The changes are coming three months after Swabey took over the helm at city hall and are expected to roll out between now and the end of January.

The highlights include sport tourism handed off as a new mandate of Nanaimo Economic Development Corporation and a new independent culture department headed by Suzanne Samborski, previously the city’s senior manager of recreation and culture.

There will also be a new social planning and protective services branch and parks and culture will merge with an expanded environmental section and a new enforcement arm.

Ten per cent of the management staff has been reduced, including the general manager of community safety and development. The shift leaves only Tom Hickey, general manager of community services and Ian Howat, general manager of corporate services, in charge of a team of eight directors.

Andrew Tucker, director of planning, and Per Kristensen, director of information technology will be taking buyout packages but according to the municipality, the majority of the positions axed will be by attrition.

“[This is] about trying to cut costs in areas that we had the ability to streamline,” Swabey said.  “Only time will tell whether the cuts are too deep or whether it’s the right amount of management staff and [if] we can deliver the services and communication as effectively as council and the community needs based on the staff we have.”

Nanaimo city council endorsed the plan in a closed council meeting last week. Mayor John Ruttan calls it progressive and while city council didn’t specifically ask for the reorganization, he said it wanted to cut costs and looked at senior management as a way to do it.