Claims made by deputy mayor candidate Ron Ellsworth that major restructuring of staff for the City of St. John's will result in a total salary increase of almost $500,000 is being dismissed by Mayor Dennis O'Keefe.
In a news release on Thursday afternoon, Ellsworth alleged that several new senior city staff will be hired, and that total city salary will increase by $469,142 as a result.
But O'Keefe says Ellsworth is wrong about that figure. According to O'Keefe, the restructuring will not result in any salary increase, due to cuts in other positions.
"When we go through this whole restructuring process, we estimate it to be a zero net balance - the costs will pretty well be nothing," he said.
Four new director positions will be created as a result of the restructuring, but O'Keefe says they will be mostly filled by internal candidates. As a result, other positions will be left vacant, and the mayor says they will be cut.
Currently, the restructuring has increased costs by about $270,000, but O'Keefe says as the restructuring continues, more positions will be left vacant and eventually cut, decreasing total salary costs.
He alleged that Ellsworth has previously received that cost estimate from the city clerk, as well as information regarding the restructuring process. Ellsworth also said that he got his $469,142 estimate from the city clerk.
According to O'Keefe, the city has not undergone such a large restructuring process in at least 25 years.
"It was felt that now is the time to reposition the city in such a way that we could meet (new) challenges," said O'Keefe, speaking about the changes the city has undergone in the past two decades, and the changes he anticipates will come.
"We felt that restructuring and the repositioning would enable city hall to more easily and more efficiently and more functionally serve the needs of the people who live in the city," he said.
As an example, O'Keefe says, the city has gone from having 11 departments to five.
Ellsworth said his larger concern with the restructuring process was a lack of an operational review for the city.
"We should never be OK with what we are doing or not doing," Ellsworth said. "We should be looking for ways to improve. ... We should always be going back and doing a re-look of how we do things to make sure that we're providing the best service that we can with the best dollar that we can."
For example, he wondered if the city can extend hours of operation on its 311 number to better serve the city.
"I have no issue with reorganization, but you can't just move bodies around without looking how it affects the organization," Ellsworth said.
But O'Keefe said such a review is, in fact, being done. He says the restructuring process is dedicated to improving service to the people of St. John's.
He also says the city will undergo a "business re-engineering process," which will "strip (key services) down to their core, and then rebuild the process focusing on a more effective and a more efficient service delivery."