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This article was published 23/11/2017 (208 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Mayor Brian Bowman has denied political interference played any part in the decisions of three senior transportation engineers who recently quit their jobs in the Winnipeg public works department.
Bowman said he’s not aware of the three individuals, and has made a practice of not getting involved in human resources matters.
"If you’re asking about (staff) turnover, it’s difficult for me to comment without knowing the specifics and the individuals you are referring to," Bowman told reporters Thursday. "I can’t speak specifically to that department and those specific personnel. I just don’t have the details."
Bowman refused to say if he had any concerns or knowledge about the departures of:
— Luis Escobar, the former manager of transportation, who resigned at the end of October to work in the private sector;
— Scott Suderman, a transportation facility manager and the lead engineer on the south Charleswood corridor project, who gave his notice after being publicly criticized by Coun. Marty Morantz and city chief administrative officer Doug McNeil for his handling of the proposal. Suderman will leave at the end of November;
— Stephen Chapman, a traffic management engineer who was the lead on the Portage Avenue and Main Street intersection-reopening project. Chapman gave his notice Wednesday. A source said he quit after being asked to replace Suderman as the lead on the south Charleswood project. The city says Chapman will exit at the end of December.
In addition, department director Lester Deane was dismissed in April, after he publicly contradicted Bowman on the time line of reopening Portage and Main.
Bowman said the decision by the public works committee to call for a halt to the south Charleswood corridor and overrule the department on the choice of an east-west route through the area did not constitute political interference, because a final decision on the project hasn't been made by council.
The mayor said enquiring about why the three men left would be political interference, and he's not prepared to do that.
"I can’t comment on that because it’s never been a topic of discussion, certainly that I’ve had," Bowman said, adding managing staff is the responsibility of department directors and, ultimately, McNeil.
"We’re trying very hard, unlike in the past, where I think there may have been a very different approach to managing HR matters between politicians and a professional public service. And we’re respecting the fact that these individuals don’t report to elected politicians," Bowman said.
"I think if we we’re taking a different approach, the criticism might be different.
"Certainly, making sure that, ultimately, our CAO is managing the workplace and managing it in a professional and respectful way is important to us. There’s certainly dialogue about that but, in terms of specific HR matters, I respect the fact the CAO is ultimately responsible for the work force that he manages and that’s entirely appropriate," the mayor said.
"I think you’re suggesting that we politically intervene and we politically manage people that report to other people in the work force— that’s not something I would support."
Coun. Janice Lukes, the former chairwoman of the public works department, said the mayor has the responsibility to find out what’s going on.
"When you are CEO of a company and one of your departments is experiencing a mass exodus of extremely talented professions, why on earth wouldn't you ask questions to leadership on what the issues are in that department?" said Lukes (South Winnipeg-St. Norbert). "I don’t know if there is political interference.
"I've known these guys for years. They are solid and wouldn't be leaving unless something bad was happening."
The union that represents the engineers, and other professionals and middle managers employed by the city, said the public criticism of Suderman had breached the city's respectful workplace policy and it has filed a grievance, as per terms of the collective agreement.
Richard Mahé, president of Winnipeg Association of Public Service Officers, refused to comment on Chapman's resignation.
McNeil is expected to present a report on the south Charleswood corridor project to Bowman and members of the executive policy committee Nov. 29.
Aldo Santin is a veteran newspaper reporter who first carried a pen and notepad in 1978 and joined the Winnipeg Free Press in 1986, where he has covered a variety of beats and specialty areas including education, aboriginal issues, urban and downtown development. Santin has been covering city hall since 2013.