Perspectives on working for the City

 Perspectives on working for the City

With our announcement last week that our Chief Administrative Officer, Eric Sorensen would be leaving City Hall, my attention has been drawn to City staffing and what it means to work for the City.

Eric’s first day on the job was in July 2015 when we had a protest rally outside City Hall regarding Skaha Park…we were all relieved the next day to see him arrive to work just as eager as the day before. Working for any government agency has its challenges, but municipalities are facing some distinct hurdles. Despite our limited avenues for raising revenue, we are taking on more services and picking up the lion`s share of the responsibilities for infrastructure. In the fifties the federal government fronted 34% of capital investment, today that number is less than 13%. The municipal share of this has increased from 27 to 48%. Municipal staff levels have had to adjust accordingly.

Numbers and challenges aside, I do believe local governments can provide the most tangible results that make a difference in our day to day lives. It also provides the best opportunity to get involved and help create positive change where we live.Penticton City Staff

The challenges that staff face however are not just coming from above. Imagine always being in a fishbowl environment, people watching-commenting on your every move, and armchair quarterbacks providing their perspective.  Just like going to the hockey rink and booing the visiting team or officials because it has been a culture we fostered, so has people’s attitudes towards their interactions with City staff. 

Don`t get me wrong, citizen oversight and feedback is crucial to our operations but the reality of working for any municipality is that your customer base is made up of tax payers who all have different opinions on what level of service, infrastructure, and amenities the City should provide and how best to provide them. When you come to City Hall it is probably to pay a bill, parking ticket, permit, taxes or dispute elements of our bylaws. Keep in mind that City staffers are not just the ones who collect your money at the counter; they are the ones that ensure safe water comes from your taps and that your home is safe from fire and crime. They make the lights turn on and the poop and garbage go away. They build and care for our playgrounds, roads and recreation facilities. They are planning for the future and trying to ensure our City is sustainable for years to come.

We have close to 300 employees and close to half of them have worked with us for over 10 years. There is so much behind the scenes work that is not high profile CAO work but is integral to the quality of life we all enjoy. Staff is truly the meat of our operations. Yes, if you do come to City Hall you will see that customer service and payment clerks that usually bear the brunt of people’s frustrations. They are to be commended as in my experience they never let this adversarial environment affect what is actually a very positive environment.

I am happy to report that the City has a great work culture. Whenever we post for a position we get significant responses as working for the City is rewarding and full of opportunity.  We are seeing great momentum here at City Hall and the wider City is feeling that momentum. The value of new construction right now in Penticton is over $143 million. Yes there will be staffing fluctuations but we will always have the stability of the countless years of experience that remain year after year.

Part of our succession planning and ultimate success is ensuring we have a broad base of expertise and experience so we have continuity.  I also think it is good to push staff out of their comfort zone to find efficiencies. Leading yourself, leading others and leading the organization is a mindset that we encourage at all levels.

Consider taking the time to speak to your neighbor, the City staffer. They are a committed bunch and they are working hard to create a community in which they are proud to work and raise their family, a community where you can do the same.