The Town of Smithers will be going through a reorganization in the coming months.
A recently published “Municipal Service Assessment” prepared by Innova Strategy group found that the “current leadership team is extremely weak due to the current vacancies and awkward organizational structure.”
It noted: “Workloads are unbalanced, decision-making is hampered, there is a limited sense of “team,” and it is difficult to understand the structure.”
Specifically, it said the CAO has too many direct reports (10) for effective CAO leadership and the department of Integrated Growth and Infrastructure is much too large and unmanageable with 37 employees representing 58 per cent of the Town’s staff overall.
Currently, Smithers is organized into nine departments — the heads of which all report to the new CAO Dianna Plouffe — plus the RCMP, which is an arms-length reporting relationship as the police are independently managed.
The current departments are: Integrated Growth and Infrastructure (IGI), Finance, Human Resources, Corporate Services, Airport Services, Emergency Services, Recreation, Economic Development, Prevention and Community Development and RCMP.
Under the proposed structure, the unwieldy IGI department will be broken up into Operations and Development Services departments with Public Works, Utilities, Solid Waste and Parks falling under the former and Planning, Engineering and Building under the latter.
The current Prevention and Community Development department will also fall under Development Services.
Facilities, which now falls under IGI will be moved to a new Community Services department along with Airport Services, Recreation, Economic Development and Cultural Services.
Completing the changes, the Corporate Services Department, which currently does Legislative Services, Clerical Support and Executive Support will absorb the Human Resources department, which includes HR, Labour Relations and Operational Health and Safety.
The Finance and Emergency Services (Smithers Fire Rescue) departments remain unchanged.
This leaves Plouffe with six direct reports plus the RCMP, an overall reduction of three.
“The new organizational and reporting structure will better align operational requirements and provide the leadership necessary to meet council and community expectations,” she said. “I am confident in the ability of our Town staff and look forward to fulfilling the recommendations over time.”
First up in that timeline for the new CAO is recruiting to fill several vacant management positions.
The report acknowledged there have been historical factors that influenced the breakdown of the “organizational culture” including, COVID-19; leadership staff turnover, particularly instability in the CAO position; and the departure of long-time Chief Financial Officer Leslie Ford who “shouldered a considerable amount of the work that many did not recognize until she retired.”
It also contained praise, however, for mayor and council, Plouffe and Town employees.
“Overall, there is strong political leadership in Smithers,” the consultants wrote. “An experienced and informed council has provided concise and achievable strategic direction. The mayor is a capable chair, ensuring that decisions are made by the body of council in a democratic manner, leading to optimum results.”
Regarding Ms. Plouffe they said that while new to the position she “has excellent knowledge of the organization. She is personable, confident, well-informed, skilled and will provide excellent leadership to the organization.”
The review, which was conducted in May, included interviews with Mayor Gladys Atrill, 10 managers/supervisors, three key and influential members of staff and two union officials.
But while it unveiled the weaknesses and concerns within the organization, it also identified strengths.
“In general, it was evident that the people who work for the Town, love Smithers,” it stated. “They see what the public sees: a beautiful community with huge opportunities for recreation and a great place to raise a family. The people who work for the Town of Smithers are mostly long-term residents. Many have family roots that go back for generations. They have no plans of moving themselves or their families away from the community.”
Atrill keyed on this particular finding in her remarks.
“Along with the organizational restructure, the review noted that Town staff clearly love their community and are dedicated to providing excellent service,” she said. “Smithers is a great community, and those who work for the Town are as committed to it as the rest of us who live here.”
In total, the report makes 11 key recommendations and includes a detailed project plan containing 30 action items under the categories of People and Structure; Technical – Strategy, Service Delivery, Processes; Financial; Communications; and Leadership/Supervision.
Of these, only the organizational restructuring was deemed “critical,” but several high-priority items were flagged for completion when a new leadership team is in place.