THE city's chief administrative officer has emerged to claim that a staffing reorganization he led has achieved $10.2 million in savings for taxpayers.

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This article was published 9/10/2009 (4612 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

THE city's chief administrative officer has emerged to claim that a staffing reorganization he led has achieved $10.2 million in savings for taxpayers.

But a pair of councillors complain the public service's decision to react to a series of Free Press stories about the reorganization further illustrates the blurring of lines between political and administrative staff at city hall.

Late Thursday afternoon, new city spokesman Ed Shiller issued a press release claiming the reorganization Glen Laubenstein launched in 2008 will save the city considerably more than the $1.5 million figure previously touted by internal services director Linda Black.

The city statement followed three stories about a rift that's emerged between politicians and the civil service since the reorganization was approved -- as well as Laubenstein's decision to spend more than half of a $372,000 reorganization budget on fees and expenses to a sole-sourced governance consultant who he had previously hired when he was CAO of Kingston, Ont., Brandon and Wood Buffalo, Alta.

In the Thursday release, Laubenstein said the city will enjoy "an excellent return" on the $372,000 expense. The city will save more than $10 million a year by reducing costs and the duplication of services as well as encouraging staff to work more efficiently, he said.

On Friday, Shiller elaborated on that statement by releasing a spreadsheet suggesting Winnipeg will save $3.3 million this year through internal efficiencies such as the consolidation of computer servers. Winnipeg will save another $6.9 million on departmental spending, most it achieved through the layoff of 43 professionals and middle managers, the spreadsheet suggests.

"The reorganization has been a significant success and the citizens of Winnipeg deserve to know about it," said Shiller, claiming the decision to issue a release about the reorganization did not constitute a response to media reports.

But two city councillors seized on the late-afternoon release to question the motives of the CAO's office and the communications manager.

"It seems pretty superficial to throw out this $10 million number and say 'this is what we're saving' well before the end of a budget year. Who issues press releases at 5 p.m.? It just seems a little bit too quick and glossy," said St. Boniface Coun. Dan Vandal.

"This illustrates my complaint there's a huge grey area between the political side and the administration," added Fort Rouge Coun. Jenny Gerbasi. "The communication of new initiatives has not been great. We brought in a new person, and he's just given us a press release that's short on facts and heavy on spin, saying the reorganization is just fine.

"Has it really improved service? Has it really made the city more efficient? What price have we paid for laying all those people off?"

The reorganization eliminates the equivalent of 83 full-time positions from the city's workforce.

bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca