Janette Smith in April 2019 when she was announced as the next Hamilton City Manager Credit: Joey Coleman

Our politics is well served when personnel matters are settled diplomatically.

Today’s announcement that embattled Hamilton City Manager Janette Smith is retiring is diplomatic face-saving.

Smith’s record in Hamilton speaks for itself, and it is bad.

This written, Smith is an good choice to hire as an adjunct in a public administration program.

She was very competent at the General Manager / Commissioner level of municipal government, has worked in all types of municipal government, and has a strong passion for mentoring young women entering public service.

Much of the early optimism, when Smith became Hamilton City Manager in 2019, was how quickly she moved to support CityLab and other youth leadership programs.

Strong Mayor [Reserve] Powers

Smith’s departure was widely anticipated amongst City Hall chatter.

The question was not if she was leaving, but how.

Under the new “Strong Mayor” powers, Mayor Andrea Horwath can hire and dismiss the City Manager.

Horwath gained those powers on July 1st.

Reaching a retirement agreement with Smith is better than having to formally exercise power.

Power is most effective when exercised as influence.

Interim City Manager Jason Thorne

The appointment of Jason Thorne as Interim City Manager is both a good choice, and an obvious one.

General Manager of Finance & Corporate Services Mike Zegarac holds the most seniority among the four General Managers. However, as Interim City Manager in 2018, Zegarac was involved in all the major cover-ups of the last Council.

The other two GMs, Angela Burden and Carlyle Khan are relatively new hires.

Thorne knows Hamilton, lives in Hamilton, and knows what Council must achieve during the coming months.

He is no caretaker.

We as a City cannot afford any pause in addressing homelessness or any of the other challenges facing us.

Next Steps – Finding a New City Manager

The formal search for the next City Manager is now underway.

Informally, people in municipal circles have known since October’s election that Hamilton will be searching for a new City Manager.

There are some great obvious candidates out there, and some great unknown candidates.

Mayor Horwath is well-regarded at Queen’s Park and in municipal academic circles.

We have a new Council, a new Mayor.

Behind the scenes, Mayor Horwath is telling her contacts that Hamilton is looking for a bold new City Manager who will come in, implement the difficult personnel decisions needed to address poor performance, and bring new ideas and innovations to Hamilton.

The next City Manager will have the full support of “strong mayor” Horwath.

There are many reasons for Hamiltonians to be hopeful that change is finally here.

The Changes to Follow

There will be more retirements and departures to follow in the coming months. The question is not if. It is when.

Mayor Horwath says she has a plan. We are finally seeing the public implementation.

The question I ponder is, has the eight-month wait already been too long?

That’s another column for another day.

(Political memoirs from the one-term Ontario NDP government of Bob Rae and one-term Nova Scotia NDP government of Darrell Dexter share a common theme, the insiders feel their NDP governments failed to be decisive upon taking office. One of the memoirs states that Nova Scotia’s NDP set its own defeat during the first eight months.)

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Published: July 20, 2023
Last edited: July 20, 2023
Author: Joey Coleman
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