"This is a defining moment in my relationship with this council so I hope that your minds are not already made up and there is no rush to judgment."Chief Administrative Officer Jeff Fielding struck this defensive pose right from the beginning of his remarks to Council before today's presentation on the problems of absenteeism among municipal employees (PDF). Mr. Fielding should at least be commended for a mostly forthright acknowledgement of his position as he faces unprecedented scrutiny over concerns of secrecy and unwillingness to communicate issues in his administration to Council or to the public. These concerns stemmed not only from the insupportable advice of the City's lawyer to initially disclose the absenteeism problem in a closed-door session of Board of Control, but also because the issue was only flagged for discussion by Coun. Paul Van Meerbergen after two of his constituents noticed the implicit troubles as signalled in the City's advertisement for a Health & Wellness Specialist.
Aside from the absenteeism figures released in today's presentation (PDF), Mr. Fielding makes the critical observation that "the issue of attendance and absenteeism was first flagged in the 2006 Budget submission, and further defined with a business case for the 2007 Budget." If nothing has changed at City Hall, it would appear that it may be at least as much a lack of diligence on the part of elected officials to receive communications as it of administration's to forward them. Nevertheless, the question must be begged: What was the scale of the problem as reported in those previous documents?
Not to put too fine an apology on Mr. Fielding, however, his admission — it would appear almost to be a boast — that administration has "been engaged in addressing absenteeism […] for the last four years" obviously underscores his administration's competence at dealing with it. As the chart below shows, absenteeism rates have largely escalated over those same four years, particularly among inside workers (CUPE 101), outside workers (CUPE 107) and Dearness Home employees.* Mr. Fielding seems to be revealing more than he intends when he says that "we understand the absenteeism issues, but that we may not fully understand completely all its reasons for existence." In other words, we know what's going on but we haven't got the faintest idea what to do about it.
*Note that absenteeism figures do not include employees of the City's boards and commissions; for example, library or police workers.