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Troubling staffing news from the County

In case you missed it, we wanted to draw your attention to the County News Online article, ‘Rocky View lets go Executive Team member’. It discusses the County’s recent firing of its Executive Director of Community Development Services, Sherry Baers. She was a senior member of Administration who took community consultation seriously. Her absence weakens residents’ voices.

The rationale for her dismissal is completely unclear. Baers was promoted to her current position six months ago as part of the reorganization undertaken by the County’s interim CAO, Rick MacDonald. Before her promotion, Baers had managed the County’s Planning Services for five years and had been in the department for over a decade.

Council had directed the interim CAO to restructure Administration to improve its customer service and its effectiveness in providing advice to Council. In the restructuring, Baers’ promotion stood alone. The other visible staff changes let go a number of senior employees, including managers in engineering, recreation, and information technology, as well as the county’s in-house lawyer, and the general manager who had been Baers’ boss.

After Rick MacDonald’s substantive organizational changes, it would have seemed logical to give the restructuring enough time to properly assess its effectiveness. Baers had been the only employee recognized by MacDonald as worthy of advancement. Given that, after only four months on the job, how can Hoggan have concluded that Baers was unsuitable? What changed?

From what we’d seen, she certainly appeared to be delivering on the expectations of the reorganization. The positive impact from the restructuring has been more evident in the departments under Baers’ leadership than elsewhere in Administration. Planning and engineering staff have been providing much clearer information to Council during public hearings and doing so with more confidence. As well, engineers are now working directly with planners on development applications. Bylaw services has been restructured to improve customer service by separating bylaw and other enforcement functions. The recreation department is making proactive changes under its new manager, hired since Baers’ promotion.

If all these positive changes were not enough to confirm her worthiness, what was so wrong to have warranted her firing after such a short time? The only thing we can see is that Council is trying to speed things through without understanding the complexities of what they are asking for. Baers had, on occasion, pointed out that staff could not deliver everything being asked for within the desired deadlines, that something would have to give to provide quality responses.

Council has not provided any public direction that suggests that Baers no longer fits with the path it wants the County to follow. In fact, Council’s long-awaited strategic plan has still not been released. From what we understand of its content, it would be surprising if the strategic plan provided any justification for the decision. So, where is the direction coming from? Is this another instance where Council is falling short on its commitment to improved transparency and accountability?

We are concerned that the new CAO is acting on backroom direction from some councillors who may have seen Baers as an impediment to pushing through their own agendas. She was always a principled professional, insisting that proper procedure and policy be followed – qualities not everyone values.

We are also worried about the message Baers’ firing sends to the rest of Administration. This is particularly the case given that staff’s expectations were that the reorganization and its resulting dismissals were behind them. What does it say about job security for the rest of the executive team and the senior managers under them? If someone of Baers’ integrity, dedication, and commitment to the County’s success can be fired, who is safe?

The inevitable uncertainty caused by Baers’ firing is particularly troubling given the massive workload that Council has placed on Rocky View’s planning and engineering staff. A partial catalogue of their “to do” list includes many critical policies for the County – revising the Land Use Bylaw, updating the off-site levy bylaws, completing the revisions to the Springbank ASP, undertaking the Bearspaw, Bragg Creek and Conrich ASP updates, and redoing the County’s municipal development plan (the County Plan).

As residents, we hope that County staff will be fully dedicated to all these important tasks. But, how can we expect that when they will unavoidably be looking over their shoulders wondering if they will be next to go? Especially, given that they had been assured that the structure and staffing would remain status-quo for at least a year.

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