City of Victoria’s top manager leaving job

Victoria city manager Jason Johnson, the highest ranking public servant at city hall, left his $274,977-a-year position on Friday.

In a statement, the city said Johnson will receive a severance of 12 months’ salary and benefits.

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Deputy city manager Jocelyn Jenkyns, who has an annual salary of $228,291, will take over as acting city manager. Councillors will make a decision about how to fill the role in the near future.

No reason was cited for Johnson’s departure. When the announcement about his departure was made, he had been on leave for over a month.

Victoria Mayor Lisa Helps said the time had come for the city and Johnson to part ways. “We hired him to make substantial changes to our organization,” Helps said. “He has completed that mandate and now it’s time for what’s next for the city and for him.”

Johnson’s salary and his severance drew criticism from budget watchdog Stan Bartlett, chairman of Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria. “We feel the pay itself is generous, excessive,” Bartlett said. “It needs to be moderated.”

He criticized city hall during Johnson’s tenure for creating a revolving door of senior staff, saying it caused instability that harmed taxpayers.

Johnson arrived in Victoria in early 2014; he was previously chief administrative officer for West Kelowna, where he had worked since 2008.

It didn’t take long for Johnson’s leadership to have an impact. Within months, Victoria’s director of finance resigned, followed closely by the directors of parks, human resources and legislative services.

Johnson hired engineering consultant Jonathan Huggett to look at the Johnson Street Bridge replacement project, then snarled in delay after delay. Huggett wrote a damning report, which concluded that no one appeared to be in charge of the project. The existing bridge project manager was gone within weeks of the report and Huggett took over.

Helps said that Johnson was brought to Victoria to modernize and increase efficiency and transparency. She gave him full credit for success.

“His strength is as a change agent,” Helps said. “He has done whatever he had to do to get the job done. He has modernized [city hall] and refreshed a lot of tired old processes.”

As an example, Helps cited rezoning waits. When Johnson arrived, she said, rezoning a piece of land in Victoria took 18 months to three years. It now takes six to eight months.

She said Johnson installed a process of tracking tasks as they made their way though city hall bureaucracy. Citizens can now be told how long an application might take to process.

“We used to just say: ‘Oh well, it takes the time it takes.’ ”

She said it was all part of a push to bring efficiencies, especially to development services, from issuing building permits to completing zoning bylaws.

Helps said the success is obvious. “You can see that in all the building that is going on around Victoria.”

The mayor said she has full confidence in the remaining senior management and Jenkyns as acting city manager.

She said the city will continue to work on its most pressing tasks: rebuilding Crystal Pool, completing a new fire hall, finishing the Johnson Street Bridge, attaining climate-action goals, and maintaining parks.

“In the meantime, we are in good hands,” Helps said. “We have a very talented group of managers in Victoria. “These are some of the highest-capacity people I have ever worked with. We are in good hands.”

rwatts@timescolonist.com

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