Hiring criteria for a new City Manager

Back in September 2020, then-City Manager Sadhu Johnston announced that he would be leaving in January 2021, which he did. A recruitment process began immediately after Johnston’s announcement and meanwhile, since January, the former deputy City Manager Paul Mochrie has been bumped up to Acting City Manager. A news release on September 17 stated that “City Council has discussed recruitment for the position of Vancouver City Manager, and agreed to proceed right away…Council aims to be leaders in our recruitment strategy and have recognized that succession planning is key to the City’s success. Council are committed to choosing the best candidate for the organization and for the City.”

Since then, no news has reached the public.

CityHallWatch believes an announcement could be made any time, so here are some thoughts about the role, hiring process, hiring criteria, and candidate.

See our previous post “Sayonara, Sadhu for some observations about the importance of the role of City Manager, a look back, and a look forward.

As the administration within our municipal government became increasingly politicized under Vision Vancouver (2008 – 2018), with excessive influence of corporate and union donations, the controversy and friction on Council and between City Hall and the public seemed to increase. Mr. Johnston was installed as City Manager under the Vision regime to replace the unpopular Penny Ballem who Vision had fired abruptly. Vision later lost all Council seats in the 2018 election due to major public dissatisfaction with Gregor Robertson and his party, but many civic watchers felt that Mr. Johnston continued to propagate the secretive and politicized Vision culture and went too far in manipulating and controlling Council and the City.

Since the 2018 election we have had a more diverse City Council with no one party holding a majority.

This role of City Manager is of crucial importance in clarifying the future of Vancouver. After the Mayor, we could probably say that it is the City Manager who sets the tone and culture within the civic administration of thousands of employees. Will that culture earn the public trust and embrace the spirit of “public servants” respecting the views of taxpayers, citizens and communities? We sincerely hope so.

The newly hired person will have a tough, challenging, but perhaps also thrilling job. It will not be easy! We are still in the midst of a pandemic, civic finances are in trouble, numerous urban planning/consultation initiatives are underway (Vancouver Plan, Broadway Corridor, Jericho Lands, Senakwa, and much more), cities are undergoing dramatic changes socially, culturally, and technologically as we race into the 21st century, Vancouver is dealing with reconciliation, homelessness, drug-related issues, and housing affordability, and there are global issues such as climate change and sea level rise to consider.

And on top of that, the faces and dynamics on the 11-member City Council could change significantly again with the October 2022 election, so this new City Manager will outlive this Council. So the hiring committee and City Council as a whole must make an effort to look beyond their own personal ideologies, priorities and aspirations and think about who will be best for Vancouver, long term.

Regarding hiring criteria for a new City Manager, we asked for input via Twitter (see our Tweet and responses here), and here are some points received in response (to be updated):

  • Someone qualified with schooling and on-the-job experience, without partisan agendas, and with an institutional and historical memory about Vancouver’s evolution to truly understand the future Vancouverites want, without being pushed by special interest groups.
  • Someone who understands that the City Manager is an executive (i.e., doing) function, not a legislative one. Council makes the rules, not the Manager.
  • Someone who is Canadian (not hired from out of the country).
  • Someone who will put local residents, small business (non real estate), and a healthy, sustainable and balanced economy ahead of lobbyists [and we might add, powerful developers].
  • More to be added

To those points we add a few comments.

Of course, it will be essential to have someone equipped with good skills and knowledge of civic planning, meaningful consultation, and civic finances.

We hope that the hiring process has been a formal, robust search process, using an executive recruiter with meaningful Canadian public sector experience engaged to identify candidates, without undue political/partisan influence.

As for respect for communities, we hope that the candidate will be well familiarized with the “Planning Principles and Goals” of the Coalition of Vancouver Neighbourhoods (CVN). Most members of the current council actually endorsed them prior to being elected. CVN says that “Neighbourhood-based planning founded on meaningful community involvement in decision-making is essential to Vancouver’s future as a liveable city of neighbourhoods that is more sustainable, affordable, resilient and inclusive…. This approach leads to better, more positive planning outcomes by incorporating community assets and the City’s most valuable resource — its people, their wisdom, experience, and priorities – into the process. It educates, builds tolerance and understanding, and strengthens community as people with different experiences and viewpoints work collaboratively to find solutions, reach agreement, and share in success. Collaboration with neighbourhoods also increases the likelihood that resulting plans will gain acceptance in the community and face fewer hurdles to effective implementation.”

Some additional questions for the candidate:

  • How will the candidate control City spending in a time of great economic uncertainty?
  • What is the candidate’s philosophy regarding transparency, and what specifically will they do and change to ensure staff is more transparent with both councillors and the public?
  • What is the candidates philosophy regarding accessibility of staff to both councillors and the public? Does the candidate see any changes as necessary given what they have seen thus far?
  • Does the candidate believe staff should be an advocate for policies and/or a particular philosophical agenda? How will they change behaviours of staff so that the public no longer views them as biased, and ensure they are legitimately viewed as being impartial?



Sayonara, Sadhu: City Manager Sadhu Johnston announces plans to leave. We look back, look forward.
(September 17, 2020)



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