City of Burnaby paying handsomely to clear house at City Hall

Severance payouts triple

The number of costly agreements the City of Burnaby has signed with managers and executives who’ve left their positions suddenly without any public explanation has risen sharply over the last three years, according to its statements of financial information.

The city signed six severance agreements last year and paid out between seven and 20 months’ salary and benefits for each, according to the 2020 statements published last week.

That compares to three such agreements in 2019, two in 2018 and one in 2017.

By contrast, the City of Vancouver signed one severance agreement last year and paid out three months' pay, according to its report.

While the annual reports don't provide detail, four senior managers who left the City of Burnaby with no explanation in 2020 still ended up on last year’s so-called “sunshine list.”

The municipality’s top three IT managers – chief information officer Shari Wallace and deputy directors John Cooke and Jacek Kaim – left in July. But their combined pay in 2020 was still $426,082.

City communications staffer Marie Ishikawa said only that the city was “undergoing a departmental reorganization.”

Wallace said she was unable to comment due to the terms of her release.

According to organizational charts included in its five-year financial plans, the city appears to have cut the IT department's deputy director positions.

A March 2020 chart shows two deputies and one assistant deputy answering to Wallace, while a March 2021 chart included in the city’s most recent five-year plan shows only managers, senior managers and a vacant assistant deputy director position reporting to new CIO Bachar Khawajah.

When the city laid off more than 1,500 union employees – but no managers – last April in response to massive revenue losses linked to COVID-19, Mayor Mike Hurley said the issue with cutting managers was contracts that require severance, usually based on years of service.

“Sometimes that (severance) can be more expensive. … Most managers at the city have been here a long time,” Hurley said in April 2020.

Three months later, the IT department’s leadership team was gone.

Wallace and her deputies were not the only senior staff to disappear from the city without explanation last year.

When former fire Chief Joe Robertson left the city in late March after 30 years of service, the city declined to say even whether he had retired, resigned or been terminated.

But the 2020 SOFI shows the city paid him $194,060 last year, which suggests he, like Wallace and her deputies, signed an agreement that included compensation.

In Robertson’s case, however, the move was clearly not a cost-cutting measure since the compensation paid to the fire department’s chiefs and deputy chiefs in 2020 was more than $200,000 higher than in 2019 – and current fire Chief Chris Bowcock made more last year than Robertson ever did as chief, according to past SOFI reports.

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