Miramichi – The embattled manager of the City of Miramichi has given his two weeks notice. David Dick has had his ups and downs in Miramichi. Unfortunately for him, the ups rarely get celebrated, but the downs make the news. It is being reported that Dick has accepted a position in a municipality in Ontario. On the previous city council Dick’s allies outnumbered his foes, but since the last election, he has had to endure some public challenges to his management style.
In August, Councillor Brian King made a motion that the City Manager’s directive requiring Directors to report all contact with Councillors to the City Manager be repealed. At the same meeting, a motion was passed to get the City Solicitor to inform council on what they could and couldn’t see with regards to city documents. The details of Dick’s contract are not known, and council was trying to uncover them.
Rumours flow like water in Miramichi, and the most persistent one since Dick came to Miramichi three years ago has been how miserable some employees at City Hall have been. Some councillors said employees were terrorized. Some retired early.
But there are people who worked with Mr. Dick that feel he was a good manager, and a very good spokesperson on behalf of the city. Former councillor Jason Harris says that Dick came to Miramichi at probably the most difficult time when Miramichi was on her knees after the mill closures.
“Not all of David’s decisions were popular,” Harris said, “but at the end of the day they were respected.” Harris went on to say that Dick made some very effective presentations to the provincial government, and feels Dick had a positive role to play in the new formula that now sees Miramichi get an extra million dollars a year.
Harris said he also respected Dick’s budget savvy. Harris said he felt Dick’s expertise with finance has been his biggest contribution to the city, and hopes that the city continues on the path Dick has set.
When Dick was hired, council was split over who was the best candidate. Gerry Cormier broke the tie, opting for Dick instead City Solicitor Mike Noel. There have been other divisive hiring decisions on council that seemed to place councillors squarely in the pro-Dick or anti-Dick camps. The former council was bitterly divided and visibly shaken when Gerry Cormier broke a tie to hire Cathy Goguen as City Clerk, siding with the selection committee. Dick had withdrawn from the hiring process, but tried to influence the selection. That night in council you could see the anguish on Gerry’s face, and the blank stares of other councillors after the decision was made. (STORY)
MO))) asked Harris what qualities he thinks a new manager should bring to the job. Harris thinks the biggest quality is to develop good working relationships with council and the business community, as well as being an effective communicator with other levels of government. Harris said he doesn’t think a manager has to be from Miramichi to do a good job. It will be council’s prerogative to choose the best person, and then work together with them after they hire them.
from MO))), August 13th
The first councillor to speak on the motion was Joan Cripps. She spoke in favour of the motion, stating that the issue had been discussed behind closed doors with no results. No direction was given to the City Manager as a result of the meeting.
Deputy Mayor, Lisa Harris, fought hard to bury the motion. She questioned whether or not the item should be discussed in public, as she felt there would be some personal or personnel issues raised that should happen in a Committee of the Whole. She made the motion to move the discussion to Committee of the Whole, but City Clerk Cathy Goguen advised that the issue was with the directive, and not a personnel matter, and therefore could not be moved to Committee of the Whole.(Committee of the Whole is a behind closed doors meeting where items are discussed of a personal nature. Nothing can be voted on behind closed doors. Any votes arising from the meeting must happen in chambers.)
Councillor Williams said she attempted to discuss the Manager’s directive at the orientation sessions held after the election in the spring, but says nothing got resolved.
Harris then went on to say that the motion was a disgrace, and nothing but an effort to take power away from the manager, and to discredit him. “It’s personal,” she said. She argued that the manager had the right to know what was going on in the city, and that it only made sense that Directors would tell the manager when something was going on and when a Councillor approached them with a problem.
Bill Fleiger said the staff at City Hall was terrified, eluding that the directive had something to do with it. He said he thought the Directors’ judgment to tell the Manager important issues should be trusted, and not be a directive.
Harris said she could not image Councillors and Directors discussing anything that could not be told to the Manager. She said, “the motion is ridiculous! The City should be moving forward, and motions like this move us in the wrong direction.”
Cormier agreed. He thought motions like these look bad on council, and that the Directors and Manager deserve the council’s trust. All councillor’s seemed to agree that Directors for the city had good judgment, but most thought Directors were now operating under the threat of the directive, and the atmosphere had changed for the worse since the directive was issued.
Harris’s next move was to try to get the motion tabled. A tabled motion does not get voted on at the meeting, but gets discussed more thoroughly in private before a public vote. John Foran, Chairman of the General Committee, also thought the motion should be tabled, largely because the City Manager was not present at the meeting. Dick was on vacation last week and was expected to be at the meeting, but was not present.
The motion to table the motion was defeated 5-3. Voting to table was Harris, Lordon, and Mayor Cormier. Voting against tabling the motion was Cripps, Williams, King, McLean and Fleiger.
With the defeat of the motion to table, as well as the attempt to move the issue to Committee of the Whole being defeated, the original motion was moving toward a final vote after all the councillors were given a chance to speak on the motion.
Cripps said she didn’t want this council to go the same way the previous one went. She expressed confidence in the Directors, but said the culture of snitching and going behind people’s backs had to stop.
Lordon made a case for the Manager saying the directive was an effective way to follow up on problems that were brought to Directors by members of Council.
McLean said she thought it was a waste of time for Directors to report every encounter with a Councillor to the Manager.
Brian King, who presented the motion, defended it by saying that the manager’s directive should have been brought to council when it came into effect, rather than being forced upon the managers. “Something is wrong at City Hall. Staff is unhappy, and I want to bring back a few smiles around here.” He said he was not going to sit by and let staff be mistreated. He urged anyone who doubted that staff was being mistreated and was unhappy to talk to some of the people in HR if they wanted their eyes opened.
King also said that this motion did not mean that the city was moving backward. “The city is still moving forward.”
Just before the matter came to a vote, Deputy Mayor Harris wanted to know if Dick’s directive was in writing. “No,” said Foran.
“Well how can we vote to repeal something that is not in writing?”
McLean said that Dick stated the directive during a Committee of the Whole meeting. Another councillor said they had seen it in an email. After the meeting, MO))) asked City Clerk Cathy Goguen how old the directive was. She said she was unsure as it had been in place before she took the Clerk’s job. Another Director acknowledged it was given to them verbally from Dick.
Before the vote, Foran said he was embarrassed that this motion could not have been handled outside of chambers. The vote passed 5-3: King, Cripps, Williams, Fleiger, McLean (for); Harris, Lordon, Cormier (against).