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New boss shakes up Victoria city hall

Jason Johnson - Photo contributed
Jason Johnson
— image credit: Photo contributed

Jason Johnson jogs from his Vic West home along the Songhees Walkway and Inner Harbour each morning before heading to work.

He likes to count the number of cyclists and fellow runners he sees along the way, but often gives up at the overwhelming tally.

As city manager at the City of Victoria, Johnson has spent the past three months shepherding a bureaucracy of nearly 1,000 staff – including 50 managers – in 10 different departments.

In a short period of time, the youthful Johnson has already began to demand more collaboration and planning between city departments.

The looming replacement of Fire Hall No. 1, for example, already has a core team in place with staff from finance, fire, engineering and communications working together at an early stage.

“Jason insists on a highly performing staff and high performing managers,” said West Kelowna Mayor Doug Findlater, who spent six years working with Johnson to build that municipality from the ground up.

Findlater said Johnson was one of his first hires after the various districts chose to incorporate in 2007, and he credits his former chief administrative officer with building and maintaining a lean department of only 150 staff.

“Victoria would be well advised to let Jason do the operational work, give him a free hand and he’ll create an organization that people will be very pleased with,” Findlater said.

Coun. Lisa Helps said she’s pleased to see Johnson applying fresh perspective to how city hall conducts its business, and said hiring Johnson was the best decision made by council since she was first elected in 2011.

“Jason is really starting to break down that silo-based thinking,” Helps said. “One of the things I think is great is he’s out and about, always working in various departments and working in satellite offices with his iPad. He’s getting to know people.”

At a meeting with council last week, Johnson revealed another change he’s implementing: requiring each department to create operational plans so they can better co-ordinate projects and meet council’s strategic goals.

“Up until now, council’s been receiving a look back, what each department has done in the past three months,” said Mayor Dean Fortin. “The introduction Jason is doing is linking operational plans to strategic initiatives, and that allows us to be forward-thinking and make adjustments before these projects get going.”

Council also approved the creation of a city-developer roundtable that will include the land use chairs of each community association. Johnson also promised to review a concern brought forward by Coun. Shellie Gudgeon, who said community association concerns are sometimes being dismissed by staff on new development projects.

“One of the things Jason keenly understands is that residents don’t care if someone works for the parks or planning or whatever department, we all work for the City of Victoria,” Helps said. “He understands in a deep way what collaboration means and I’m already starting to feel a shift in the energy throughout the organization.”

dpalmer@vicnews.com

Editor’s note: Johnson declined an interview request for this story.

•••

Staffing changes at city hall

After a service delivery review of Victoria’s operational budget was completed in 2013, the city eliminated its sustainability department and another management position.

… Both the finance and parks directors have resigned in the past two months for other opportunities and have yet to be replaced. … Victoria Fire Chief Jeff Lambert retired last week after an extended medical leave. He was replaced by Deputy Chief Paul Bruce.

 

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