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Organizational review reveals staff morale issues at District of Sooke

Report highlights concerns expressed by district, staff, council and stakeholders
District of Sooke management and staff morale issues need to be addressed, according to a February 2023 organizational review and restructuring report. (File - Sooke News Mirror)

The District of Sooke needs to address management and staff morale issues, as well as local government processes, according to a February 2023 organizational review and restructuring report obtained through a freedom of information request.

Commissioned by the District of Sooke, the report highlights the need to hire a new chief administrative officer immediately. It highlights concerns felt by district employees regarding the need for more leadership and the reorganization of two departments. It makes seven key recommendations.

The version of the report obtained by Black Press is heavily redacted.

Consultant Jonathan Huggett authored the report. Its findings were based on interviews with staff, council and third-party stakeholders.

The report says the new CAO, which the council is hiring, must be an “agent of change” capable of motivating senior staff and working cooperatively with stakeholders. It emphasized the importance of the new CAO mentoring senior staff for future leadership roles.

While the report delved into leadership issues, it also discussed bureaucratic processes.

According to Huggett, development permit approvals, which have plagued the municipality for years, dominated most of the conversations.

There is a delay in approving projects.

For instance, a proposed 50,000-square-foot retail development is held up by a difference of opinion over three metres of the required road right-of-way. The report stated there is no mechanism for compromise and negotiation.

“My view is that neither council, staff nor developers are at fault,” he said. “The process is simply wrong. Both staff and developers have indicated to me that many of the bylaws are outdated or simply unworkable.”

Still, the study suggested bylaws will likely remain the same for some time due to a lack of a new official community plan and limited staff capacity to bring revised bylaw proposals to the council.

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Huggett said the OCP is the basis of the district’s responsibilities.

The district began the OCP review in 2017. Following the 2018 election, the new council committed to its completion, but delays meant it could only be completed after the 2022 election.

“Restarting the OCP process would take considerable staff resources. Council and the CAO need to establish priorities. It is not possible for the existing staff to do everything, such as restarting the OCP, revising bylaws, dealing with development applications in a timely manner and hiring additional staff. Priorities must be set,” the report stated.

Planning must also consider the financial implications.

Huggett used the transportation master plan as an example, which projects a cost of $24.9 million. Still, in the 89-page document, only one page is devoted to funding, with no mention of affordability.

“Good master plans are flexible and involve the community and other stakeholders from the outset, giving the plan a legitimate base and a better chance to come to fruition. They should also pay equal attention to the detail of how they are to be financed,” Huggett said.

The report stated that the engineering and operations department is too big and need to be split. It emphasized the importance of project implementation through effective planning and risk assessment.

In a review of the planning and development department, several tasks must be addressed, including restarting the OCP process, reviewing bylaws, and staffing.

By the end of 2023, the district plans to have two senior planners, one planner, and one senior planning technician employed to address day-to-day activities and incorporate more policy planning.

“Hiring more staff is important, but it is no guarantee that the current challenges will improve. The director of planning and development, in consultation with the council and the CAO, must establish the priorities,” Huggett said.

Mayor Maja Tait could not be reached for comment Monday.


1. Appoint a new CAO without further delay recognizing the need for previous experience as a CAO, rapid availability and a track record as an agent of change.

2. Appoint an outside specialist in bullying and harassment to bring closure to the remaining staff concerns about past events.

3. Seek council approval to a new or revised OCP through a multi-phase approach, requiring significant council involvement.

4. Establish priorities for the work of the planning and development department.

5. Consider reorganizing the engineering and operations department likely by separating out parks and facilities from transportation and water.

6. Require engineering and operations staff to prepare a business case for every project, prior to any significant expenditures, outlining purpose, scope, alternatives, risks and funding.

7. Require a business plan prior to approval of master plans that address a realistic and affordable funding mechanism.

Kevin Laird

About the Author: Kevin Laird

It's my passion to contribute to the well-being of the community by connecting people through the power of reliable news and storytelling.
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