The cure for staff insubordination is a big broom in strong hands.

News 100 blueBy Pepper Parr

February 6th, 2019



It may not be case of insubordination but it was a classic case of mis-understanding who calls the shots and how staff should be responding to members of council.

Tuesday evening Mayor Meed Ward asked for some critical information on when a time frame on a development will be reached.

Amica development rendering

Mayor was told to google if she wanted to know when the time line for making a decision on this development would be reached.

The North Shore Road proposed Amica development had just gone through a lengthy Statutory meeting and there was concern that the city would once again fail to get reports from staff in time to ensure that a decision could be made in time.

The Mayor asked planner Lisa Stern when the 210 allows would have been reached. Google it was the response.
The Gazette reporter wasn’t in the room – so can’t say if there was an audible gasp. We did get a response from a reader who commented: “it shows a total lack of respect for the Mayor. I certainly hope someone will speak to her about it.

Stern is due to take some maternity leave. “I have to wonder” said the Gazette reader, “ when she will go on maternity leave – my question is who will take over this file and will it affect the deadline in June for the North Shore Proposed Development?

Burlington’s Planning Department has a history of failing to get a response to a development proposal completed in time which has the developer making an appeal to the Local Planning Act Tribunal for a decision.

Mayor Meed Ward wasn’t going to let that type of thing happen again. She wanted the time line date included in every report that comes to council. Meed Ward wasn’t certain just how that date was determined. Was Sunday counted?

To ask for the information and be told by a staff planner, a junior one at that, to google for the information is insubordination and reflective of the attitude the department has taken when dealing with this new Council.

broomIs there cause for dismissal here? Will the Planning Director have words for the planner? Will there be the much needed cultural re-direction from within the department or will someone with a big broom start doing some sweeping.

The Interim City Manager might begin using that hard glare he is very capable of directing at those he is unhappy with.

Tomorrow would be soon enough for that to begin happening.

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13 comments to The cure for staff insubordination is a big broom in strong hands.

  • Bob

    After having just watched to webcam of this meeting, I think this is being taken totally out of context. My take on this is: The mayor asked what the date would be 6 months from now before the applicants approval needed to be dealt with before facing LPAT sanctions. The Mayor admitted that she could not, or was not good at projecting future dates, and that the planning dept probably had tools to assist them with this. Lisa’s comment to “google it” was not disrespectful. It like trying to figure out what day of the year your next birthday falls on. Lighten up folks and give Lisa a break.

  • Penny

    John, I was at the meeting and was sitting right behind Lisa Stern. This statement was not made to “inject a little humour in the meeting”. To her credit the Mayor did not comment on this statement, simply let it slide.

  • john coleman

    i was at the meeting when Lisa Stern made the remark to the mayor and it was obviously to inject a little humor into the meeting this obviously got past the writer of this article that if he was even there if anyone should get fired it should be the writer of this article for irresponsible journalism.

  • Stephen White

    This behaviour is entirely inappropriate. If it had occurred in any private sector organization the employee would be taken aside by their supervisor, reprimanded, and appropriate disciplinary action imposed. At a minimum he/she would have been asked to apologize, either in person or in writing, for their behaviour. If this behaviour persisted the employee would be terminated for insubordination.

    Public servants are expected to check their biases at the door. What they like/dislike is entirely irrelevant to the performance of their duties. The Mayor and Councillors are juggling a number of different issues, and they can’t be expected to have all the information at their fingertips let alone the time to research and investigate every matter. That is what they presumably hire public servants to do.

    We really do need to see substantive personnel changes at City Hall, and the Planning Department should be the primary focus. Clearly, Planning officials have lost the confidence of the Mayor, most of the Councillors, as well as the public. Most are nothing more than lickspittles for real estate developers. When you lose credibility it really is time to depart, and many in the Planning Department are long past their “best before” date.

  • Joe Gaetan

    Not being there, I am not sure if this is fake news, or, if this is reminiscent of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s nest, where the inmates were running the insane asylum.

  • Ken

    Anybody can fire anybody; its hiring their replacement that is the hard part.

    To this end Council missed their opportunity to terminate the planning staff on mass when they terminated the City Manager. This would have been no different then what Ronald Reagan did with the Air Traffic Controllers in 1981. Practically speaking you would have hired almost all of them back except there would have been a palpable reset of expectations in the Planning Department. Speaking of expectations has anybody noticed that Developers have no idea we had an election???

    I rarely come to the defense of City Staff and while I wasn’t witness to the above behaviour I might add our Golden Boy of a Mayor can get under the skin of individuals. Maybe that’s a partial explanation?

    Lastly, the Planner/Mayor exchange is merely a symptom of the greater illness. I’d like Council roll up their sleeves as a Board and be hands on in selecting Heads of key departments. Via the Interim City Manager, Council should pick their Head of Legal, Head of Finance and Head of Planning. In the past, Council has chosen the City Manager and outcome has been a revolving door of C/M’s while the real dead wood remains. The fact is the lieutenants in any organization are the ones who do the heavy lifting. Criticizing, front line staff is comical as employee moral is already in the shitter. since staff like Lisa Stern can go get a job in Oakville or Hamilton for a better salary or go to a Developer and make real money.

    • Fred Crockett

      Ken, who’s the “Golden Boy”? Goldring was bounced by the electorate, and Ridge was bounced by management. I don’t disagree with many of your points, but it appears that Ms. Stern’s sense of self-righteousness and entitlement masks a paucity of class….

  • Don Fletcher

    Can you all remember, and it wasn’t that long ago, that our dictatorial City Manager, James Ridge, sent an email to all City staff that he “had their back”? The cultural problem in the Planning Department is a management problem that appears to have been either created by or not remedied by its’ former director, Mary Lou Tanner. She also seems to have been a James Ridge protege.
    I suggest the City start there and soon with any housecleaning!

  • Brian Jones

    In my opinion, this reaponse and ones similar have been a long standing approach by staff.
    As Lynn has replied, it is totally unacceotable and agree with the Mayor that time lines be drawn in a “tight” schedule in each document.

  • Penny

    Lynn, I was at the meeting last evening. Those around us who heard the comment were stunned to hear the response given to the Mayor, for what is a very much needed request. The planning department seems not to be using their own advice of” Googling the date” as they seem to always be taken to the OMB now LPAT for failure to meet the 210 days to process development applications.

  • This is an unfortunate example that can exist in many government personnel (municipal, provincial and federal), at various internal position levels, where they forget to whom they are accountable. WE elect the council and mayor which makes them accountable to us. They direct the Chief Administration Officer, who in turn directs their managers and staff who as a result are also accountable to us. Beyond insubordination, when staff fails to perform, and their managers fail to effectively facilitate better performance, they end up wasting OUR money. Absolutely use the ‘broom’, not only for insubordination, but for poor multi-level performance. We cannot afford not to.

  • Lynn Crosby

    This is a completely unacceptable, unprofessional and disrespectful response. The public as well as council would benefit from having this date shown on all applications going forward. If staff cannot get with the new program, and if they cannot be professional, they should be shown the door.

    • Jim Young

      Hi Lynn.
      I’m sure thats exactly what The Mayor asked for in the end. That all pending applications being considered have the 210 day LPAT due date prominently displayed to avoid the “not in time” appeals by developers. Too many of them recently.

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