The recent resignation of senior administrators at City Hall is nothing more than the usual “ebb and flow” of a city with a staff the size of Sarnia’s, says Mayor Mike Bradley.
“People come and go in any organization,” he said. “The administrative direction of the city, in my view, was wrong. It was putting up walls.”
Delivering his annual “state of the city” address to the Kiwanis Golden K last week, Bradley cited the need to attract more bio-based industries and spoke passionately about the long-delayed detox centre, something for which he has pushed hard for nearly two decades.
But Mayor Bradley, who was re-elected to a record 10th straight term by a wide margin in last October’s election, couldn’t escape questions about his record of workplace harassment at City Hall.
“Mayor Mike, I know these are tough questions but I think they have to be asked,” said Golden K member Dick Felton, who pressed him on the recent exodus of senior staff.
CAO Margaret Misek-Evans, interim CAO Alan Shaw, city solicitor Scott McEachran and finance director Lisa Armstrong are the most recent to tender their resignations, bringing to seven the number who have left or are about to leave.
“We were very impressed with the administration as it stood before,” Felton said.
Bradley replied the staff departures aren’t anything new to Sarnia, noting others also prior to 2014. Other cities including Burlington and North Bay have also had turnover, he added.
“I want to see the other side of the story when we start to fill these positions, that credit is given, that people are applying,” he said.
Bradley, who won the mayoral race with 66% of the vote, reminded the audience that his campaign theme of “taking back City Hall” is still a top priority.
He foreshadowed some moves he intends to bring to council in coming months, including re-establishing a front reception desk at City Hall, remove the wall erected to separate his and council offices from staff, and revisiting Sarnia’s code of conduct.
“I watched the four years before: more taxes, more debt, more staff, and less services,” he said.
“If you go to Lambton College, if you go to the Research park, you go to Lambton County, they have a desk at the front for a reason,” he said. “They’re small, symbolic things.”
Former city councillor Matt Mitro, who attended as a guest, asked the mayor if he could get the council votes needed to make changes – to which the mayor curtly replied, “Thanks for the analysis. Next question.”
“The fact is, the council will make their own decisions,” he said. “One thing I do that other mayors don’t do: I don’t lobby people to do things,” he said, visibly irritated after Mitro pushed for another response.
Sarnia’s stagnant population was also brought up, with one attendee noting the city hasn’t grown for some time.
The mayor said it’s an important issue, but added he doesn’t necessarily believe the numbers Statistics Canada is reporting. He predicted a population increase with the next census because of the proximity to the Aamjiwnaang First Nation. Indigenous populations are a fast growing demographic, he said.
A vibrant international student population is also key, Bradley added.
“If the international students weren’t here, the college would close tomorrow.”