Opinion Editorial

Refreshing approach to city staffing

By Dave Dawson, Orillia Packet & Times

One might assume that when a staffer leaves his employ at the City of Orillia, he is automatically replaced. But thankfully that is not always the case.

Earlier this year, a few key members of both the public works and parks, recreation and culture departments either retired or left their jobs. In the wake of the departures that were not driven by any internal issues, squabbles or concerns, civic officials decided it was a perfect time to re-evaluate the structure of the two large city departments.

"We don't just automatically replace when a staff member retires or resigns," said Gayle Jackson, the city's chief administrative officer. "We actually take the time to analyze the position, make sure we still need the position, and/or is it time to rethink the position? The city is always looking for efficiencies in how we serve the residents."

Driven by that mantra, Jackson along with Lori Bolton, the city's director of human resources, and other key staff members met with staff from the public works and parks, recreation and culture departments over the course of several months, conducting one-on-one interviews and making sure they had a good understanding about how the two realms operate. The goal was to determine the best path forward to maximize resources and optimize service levels.

As a result of those interviews and research, some key changes were made. The city's public works department no longer exists. In its place, a new engineering and transportation department was born and will be headed up by George Bowa, formerly director of public works. Andrew Schell will remain at the helm of the environmental services department, which will add operations to its mandate.

Under Bowa's direction, engineering and transportation will be responsible for engineering, construction and transportation. The roads division and mechanics of the former public works department will be part of the environmental services and operations department. The electricians will report to facilities and special projects. All the changes are the direct result of the interviews and research staff conducted.

The review was spearheaded from within and conducted in-house. No outside consultant was hired. No current employees lost their jobs. The changes are meant to create synergies within the departments and there will be some cost savings thanks to the retirements and departures that sparked the changes.

Jackson refused to call it a shakeup and said it was not about downsizing. "It wasn't a matter of a review to determine cost savings," Jackson said. "It was a matter of just doing a full review to see what, in fact, was working and wasn't working."

City council was kept informed throughout the process, but Jackson and senior staffers were well within their authority to conduct a review and enact changes. Frankly, it's a refreshing approach that helps ensure city departments are operating efficiently and co-operatively. Everyone involved deserves a round of applause for working to maximize resources and ensuring taxpayers money is spent responsibly.


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