–Britt Santowski, SPN
Another 36 years of experience, poof, gone. One evening Sooke’s Fire Chief Steven Sorensen announces his departure to his crew; the next morning—one week from today—the District of Sooke issues the official announcement. Effusive best wishes from the District accompanied the sudden departure of Sooke’s Fire Chief, and a long list of heart-felt community appreciations and send-offs pour onto the pages of Sooke PocketNews.
Not to worry, though, rapid hiring plans were in process.
“The DOS is reaching out to fill a three month interim Fire Chief position while we go through a hiring process to appoint a new Chief,” noted the District of Sooke CAO Teresa Sullivan in correspondence to Sooke PocketNews at the time of the announcement. “We will work with the new Chief with regards to longer term staffing plans.”
True to their word, earlier today Sooke announced the interim appointment of former Colwood Fire Chief Russ Cameron. Cameron, a respected and long-serving career fire fighter, retired from serving in Colwood in 2013.
Sullivan, elected as a Colwood Councillor on November 19 2011 and serving until November 2014, would probably be familiar with his reputation.
Still, Sooke Fire Rescue Services has taken a big leadership hit this year. Sorensen’s late-July departure falls on the heels of the Deputy Fire Chief’s Rick McLeod’s retirement in May. Sorensen had 36 years of experience, and McLeod had 25. A long-time volunteer, Captain Dan Poirier, has also recently left due to a move. With him go another 21 years of experience.
These changes come at a time of budget cuts to the Fire Department. An April 11 Council meeting saw approximately $192K shifted out of the fire department’s budget. Cuts were made to overtime, professional development, and relief worker wages. Equipment and Squad 1 replacement funds were reduced to Nil. A spokesperson from the Fire Commission (established in January, 2016) assured Council that the operations of Sooke Fire Services would not be impacted.
Sorensen’s departure falls on to a growing list of disappearing DOS staff. The DOS Administration was completely demolished between last year and this one. Everyone who was there last year is gone, including the former CAO Gord Howie, former Corporate Officer Bonnie Sprinkling (over 15 years of service) and Tina Hanson, who was with the District since 2012. Those three have been replaced with four new hires.
Fire Rescue Service has lost two of their five career fire fighters: Sorensen (Fire Chief, 36 years of experience) and Rick McLeod (Deputy Fire Chief, five years of service, 25 years of experience). Sorensen has been temporarily replaced by Cameron while Sooke finds a permanent placement. McLeod’s position, vacant since May though notice was given last year, has still not be posted never mind filled.
Other notable exits include Elisabeth Nelson (Municipal Engineer, five years of service), Michael Dillabough (Director of Finance, five years of service), and Amanda Irving (whose departure reduced the Building inspection’s staff level from three to two).
Is it long-overdue housekeeping or personal agenda driving the change? It’s hard to even guess in an information vacuum. In fairness to the District, “excitement” is suggested for September’s Council meeting, so something is forth-coming.
Much of what goes on at the District is out of the residents’ control, and community input opportunities have diminished over the first half of this year. Elections are not until 2018, and residents will then get to signal satisfaction or a desire for change.
But here’s the thing: There is something can be done, today, and every day.
While the District of Sooke rebuilds its dismantled skills base and re-establishes fire-fighting (and other) leadership roles, residents can watch. Bear witness. In the scientific community it’s called the Observer Effect, where the mere presence of an observer changes the outcome of an experiment.
There are only a handful of diligent resident watchdogs (excluding media), one of whom was recently accused of bullying staff and council. Granted, that type of official feedback is not warm and fuzzy, but the public to whom politicians are beholden (it’s not the other way around) should not wait for that red-carpet rollout. There will be no applause, no grand welcoming and often, no reward. But, if the public is actively observing (and questioning and challenging given the chance), make no mistake: the Observer Effect will apply.
A “Special Council Meeting” has even been scheduled for Aug 31, 7:00 p.m. Perhaps, I will see you there.
Related: Eye on Sooke Council
- District’s past failure to communicate shocks family with this unexpected $2,000 memorial dedication bill
- Delegation reveals Sooke Council divided on being informed
- DELEGATION: Recent bad Council decision tied to the lack of an up-to-date OCP
- District of Sooke grants improper business licence, violates its own zoning
- Expenses for top officials in Sooke increased dramatically
- Criticism is confused with defamation and harassment
- Nov 14, 2016 Council Meeting takeaways: Overview
- District employees vs contractors, and too many shades of grey
- EDITORIAL: SPN differentiates between “bullying” and “asking questions”
- RCMP investigates harassment
- Open Letter: Reminder that Council can change bylaws; administration cannot
- District hiring dilemma: Ignore Council directive, or direct-appoint $460K contract
- District of Sooke quietly hosts Special Meeting
- Letter: Is the Sooke Director of Corporate Services staying or going? Sooke resident calls for leadership
- Interim Sooke Fire Chief will be former Colwood Fire Chief Russ Cameron
- Sooke Fire Chief Steven Sorensen hangs up his helmet
- Legal letters to SPN “not a District thing”
- The District of Sooke is hiring: “Director of Corporate Services and Corporate Officer”
- SPN Takeaways: Regular Sooke Council Meeting, July 11, 2016
- Mayor Tait invites dialogue, would like to see Sooke’s progress and successes highlighted
- CFAX1070 interviews Britt Santowski regarding harassment in Sooke
- Both sides of the story presented on CHEK News
- District of Sooke News Release: Freedom of Expression in Sooke
- Editorial: Freedom of speech in Sooke must be constructive
- Bullying, harassment of District officials, Councillors will not tolerated
- Sooke resident raises many questions wants dialogue, transparency, answers
- Sooke Council passes motion in spite of “strong” staff recommendation
- District severance decision appealed
- LETTER: Sooke CAO clears up inaccuracies
- LETTER: Quiet and possibly expensive policy shift happening at Sooke’s Municipal Hall