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The hunt is on: New West recruiting to fill key vacancies at city hall

Vacancies at city hall: “You don't want these positions staying vacant for very long.”
The City of New Westminster is looking to fill three of the staffing positions in its senior management team.

The City of New Westminster is on the hunt for staff to fill three vacancies in its senior management team.

The city's CFO/director of finance, director of climate action, planning and development and chief librarian positions are currently vacant.

“We're in full recruitment right now,” said Lisa Spitale, the city’s chief administrative officer. “The city’s practice and policy is: for all department head positions, we go through professional recruiters. So, we've got professional recruiters with all three of the recruitments.”

Spitale said she doesn’t like having vacancies at the senior management table, but recognizes it’s an industry-wide issue. She said the city’s human resources department has been very proactive in retaining recruiters and getting the hiring process underway.

“They're out there and they're talking to people, so I'm really pleased about that,” she said. “From a city organization perspective, it gives me a lot of confidence that we're going to be seeing these recruitments moving throughout the fall. And that's what you want. You don't want these positions staying vacant for very long.”

Harji Varn, who became the city’s chief financial officer in September 2021, left this spring become CFO of the Metro Vancouver regional district.

“We're fully into that (recruitment) process right now. I'm hoping that we're in a position in early fall to actually have someone selected. I'm hoping. Because it's going well,” Spitale said. “We've got lots of interested people. Really impressive resumes. So I'm really happy about that. And that's good, because it's a really important position.”

Since Varn’s departure in early June, Jacqueline Dairon, manager of financial services for the New Westminster Police Department, has been serving as the city’s acting director of finance.

Despite the vacancy, Spitale said the city’s expectation is to adhere to the principle of finishing its budget deliberations by the end of 2023. She said the city has worked hard to set up financial systems to support that schedule.

CAPD and library vacancies

The City of New Westminster is also seeking to fill the director of climate action, planning and development position.

Emilie Adin had served in that role, formerly called the director of development services, since August 2018.

Adin, who had been off on medical leave for a number of months, recently notified the city that she would be leaving that role, Spitale said.

According to Adin’s LinkedIn page, she became the president of the Planning Institute of British Columbia in June 2023. She’s also been an adjunct professor at the UBC School of Community and Regional Planning, where she teaches a master’s course, since 2018.

Jackie Teed, the city’s senior manager of development services, had been serving as acting director of climate action, planning and development during Adin’s absence.

According to Spitale, the director of CAPD position has been posted, but the city has not yet started any of the interview processes.

“We are just sort of at that stage of recruiters are out there, people are applying,” she told the Record. “We'll be doing that work in the fall.”

Jorge Cardenas, who joined the City of New Westminster as its chief library in October 2021, has also moved on. In June, he joined Simon Fraser University as head of the Samuel and Frances Belzberg Library at the university’s Vancouver campus.

“What I was told from HR is that they're working with the library board and they are going to be starting that recruitment process, I think, shortly,” Spitale said.

Spitale – who began her career with the City of New Westminster as a planner in 1992 and rose through the ranks to take on the top staffing position in June 2013 – hopes current city employees will apply for the jobs.

“One of the things that we've always prided ourselves on is promoting from within and giving people opportunities,” she said. “So, I hope with all three recruitments that we have internal candidates. They're the most important position in that department; they're important positions around the senior management table, and they’re important positions around the council table.”

Staffing challenges

Spitale said the city has been upfront about the challenges being experienced with staffing.

“We have tried to be really transparent, even in our council reports saying, this is just the industry right now,” she said. “We need to understand it and we need to recognize that we've got to employ several different recruitment and retention strategies right now. That's the labour force right now.”

According to Spitale, staffing shortages are impacting every municipality in Metro Vancouver. Some staff are being recruited by other cities.

“We know competing with each other is not a very good practice because all you're doing is just creating more vacancies,” she said. “But we're also competing with the private sector; we're competing with other government agencies for the same talent. Right? And so, then when that happens, it's a trickle-down effect.”

Spitale said staff in some departments are being “poached” more than others, including planning, building and information technology.

“Think about the industry right now – housing crisis,” she said. “Lots of applications, and you need planners, you need building inspectors, all the engineers that work in development, the same thing. And so what's happening? That's where you're seeing a lot of the vacancies. And those are the areas that it's really difficult to do a lot of recruitment, because that's where all the competition is right now in the region.”

On the upside, Spitale said vacancies can create great internal opportunities for staff to take on acting assignments and to explore new opportunities. On the downside, she said it can create a feeling like “everything’s in flux” which can stress the organization and impact staff.

“I think what I would like folks to know is we recognize that we've got staff shortages, and we're trying our best to keep putting resources where we've got the greatest community needs right now,” she said. “But because of it, other areas aren't being addressed I think as quickly as we would like, and we recognize that and we're trying to find different ways to address. So it is something with that we're that we're live to.”

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