New Nanaimo city manager Ted Swabey says he wants to shift the focus on city affairs back to council.
The top bureaucrat has just wrapped up his second week on the job, and opened his office doors to reporters Friday to discuss his outlook and goals for new position.
He replaced former city manager Al Kenning, who retired earlier this month.
Swabey has worked at the city 23 years, starting at the front counter of the planning department and working his way up through the organization.
Now the at the helm of the day to day operations of the municipality and in charge of approximately 500 employees, Swabey said a major priority will for be to help Mayor John Ruttan and councillors reshape the organization as they see fit, as well as build a new relationship between the city manager's office and elected representatives.
He said media coverage and public perception has placed unwarranted emphasis on the role of city manager in running the community.
"That's the culture that needs to change, because it's false," he said.
"Council are the only ones that set my priorities.
"It shows a little bit of the non-understanding about how municipal government is run," he added.
"Those decisions that happen at council, when (council) adopts the agenda at the beginning, it transfers from my reports to their agenda," he said. "... In doing that, they are then in control with what they want to do on every issue."
Swabey said upcoming budget consultations are "the very first part of that change" to give elected officials more opportunity to tweak the city's priorities. He said there will be regular check-ins with council on the strategic direction of the city and whether the current staffing structure meets council's needs.
"And out of those discussions, we might achieve some of these issues related to stress in the organization or governance issues that we're trying to realign ..." he said.
Swabey said that 35 to 40 per cent of the city's workforce will be eligible to retire in the next five years.
CUPE's contract is also set to expire this year, factors that Swabey said will play a part in determining what structural changes could take place within the city.
The start of Swabey's tenure coincides with major issues such the ongoing Colliery dams controversy, as well as negotiations with city fire fighters, who are without a contract.
For Swabey, it is a job where there "is never a dull day."
His office is adorned with small personal touches.
A shelf next to his desk contains a set of judicial scales belonging to his father, an Ontario lawyer and judge.
Facing his desk on the opposite wall is a photograph of a much younger Swabey, dressed in a sports uniform, standing on a playing field next to his father.
"My dad lived his life as a lawyer and a judge based on relationships," Swabey said.
He noted that the older Swabey would go into work at 4 a.m. to meet clients and would spend up to an hour talking to them about their lives and getting to know them personally.
"One thing I always learned from my father was, understand the people," he said.
"And, relationships are more important to achieving the goal than anything else. That, and he had a wonderful sense of humour."
© Copyright 2013