Aurora Citizen

News & Views from the Citizens of Aurora Ontario

Why Is Council Avoiding A Direct Question?

Posted by auroracitizen on July 24, 2010

Council Watch #11 – by Richard Johnson

Back in April I asked the town if the recent level of senior staff turn-over was typical of past councils or was it some kind of anomaly ?

I was then asked to file a freedom of information request, which I promptly obliged. I was reluctant to spend the total charge of $30 requested in order to get an answer to what I thought was a simple question that council itself should have been asking at no cost to me given that approximately twenty senior and mid level management staff have left the town in the past few years by choice, or otherwise.

When I opened up the town’s response (seconds after parting with my money) I realised that they had not actually answered my question.

Rather than get a specific answer with regards to senior and mid level management turn-over I received total employment numbers that suggest that staff turn-over on average appears to be in line with the previous two Council terms. At that point I decided that I could not afford to pay the money that would be expected to actually answer my question. I was prepared to cut my losses and move on to the next big municipal issue.

I have subsequently found out in a round about way that the Mayor informed a local reporter that all I had to do was ask her to answer the question and the answer would have been forthcoming at no cost to me. The Mayor’s comments also come as a surprise to me because I understand that at least two councillors have asked the same question of staff and have received no response.

At this point, through this OPEN QUESTION TO THE MAYOR, I would like to clarify if the senior and mid level staff turn over that we have witnessed during the current council term is typical of the pervious two councils or is it some kind of anomaly?

The town’s response to my FOI was also enlightening in that I found out that our town staff has grown by 20% since the last election, to a of total 192 people.

This too was typical of previous staff growth, however as a side note I had to ask myself if such an increase was in line with our town’s growth over the same period and was this staffing increase justifiable given the current economic downturn and the town’s apparent efforts to limit our tax increases ?

Some may argue that the town’s approach may be a Keynesian approach to stimulus spending, but I’m not so sure that increasing taxes year in and year out is in our collective best interest over the long term. If the Mayor wants to tackle that question as well, it would be much appreciated given that October 25th is fast approaching.

I look forward to receiving some kind of more detailed response that will hopefully come before October 25th at no further expense to me.

RJ

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5 Responses to “Why Is Council Avoiding A Direct Question?”

  1. Richard Johnson said

    As a follow up to the above post, readers may have noticed the Mayor’s response to my open letter in the Auroran newspaper. As expected, she did not answer a single question posed of her. She appears to have actually reframed the main question while giving total employment numbers given that I expect that she can’t bring herself to admit that so many senior staff have left the town.

    Staffing levels have increased at approximately the same rate for the past ten years despite the recession that has compelled many companies and governments to exercise financial restraint. Aurora’s staff grew by 20% over the past four years and salary costs have increased $4 million between 2006 and 2009.

  2. Robert the Bruce said

    The Town is now looking to hire an HR Manager.

    Interesting.

    Fuimus

  3. Fred said

    Richard, is this the first time you’ve heard of the staff increase? Where have you been?
    It has come with the big departmental re-organization. Now comes “refurbishment” of the town offices. Lots more costs associated with this. Whole departments relocating. More consultants… New furniture…New Managers…

    • Richard Johnson said

      Hi Fred:

      With regards to your question, “where have I been”, I’ve been here all along, but I did not have the town’s employment numbers until last week, after caving in and paying the requested fee.

      I can only tackle a few issues at one time so my apologies if I did not tackle the staffing issue earlier. I’ve tried for three months to get answers from the town and I can only do what I can do.

      When I actually reviewed the information provided it struck me that the staff increases we have witnessed over the past four years are consistent with the increases we have seen over the previous four years. All I am doing is asking the question as to if this is a prudent approach to managing our budget in this current economic climate and I’m also wandering what our town’s growth has been over the same period of time. Maybe someone could provide the answer to that question.

      I think the questions I am posing above are fair to ask under the circumstances and I’m trying to base my opinions on the best information available.

      Regards,
      RJ

    • traffic said

      Where is the increase? that is the question. Towns undergo annual staffing reviews which sometimes takes a couple of years to undertake OR is undertaken all in a surge at once. So, it would seem a large number are being hired, but they are still probably behind the times. See the town above aurora for this one. However, it is unusual to see senior people leave an organization, especally en masse. Again, to use our neighbours to the north, over the past year and a half (beginning of 2009), one commissioner, one director, one lawyer, and one manager, some to retirement,and some moving on (and of course a number of “lower rank but important” staff through normal retirement and other opportunities).

      Now the real question here is: at what cost? If the Town is hiring people to catch up, then at what cost to the Town are the consultant’s fee to offset the staff not yet hired? Councillor Buck talks to the legal fees, but what about all those other studies and normal business? I have worked both sides of this, and consultant fees are about 3 times the staff fees, and provide about 1/2 the work at a lower quality.

      It is obvious that Council can’t work with staff, and staff have been resistent to Council, and the end result is all the hidden costs of this.

      So, to probably answer the question at the top of my rambling reply, I bet most staff increases are with the operations or recreations groups at the lower staff levels – just trying to keep up with the expanding town infrastructure.

      Then again, what is the cost of losing long-time good staff? It is not always measured in dollars.

      MO

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