So long, says councillor to chief planner
Bob Bjerke’s three-year tenure ends abruptly
At least one regional councillor isn’t sad to see Halifax’s now-former chief planner out of the job.
Bob Bjerke’s three-year tenure abruptly ended this week.
“I am not disappointed or surprised,” Coun. Matt Whitman said in an interview.
Whitman said he was frustrated by Bjerke’s recent recommendation to council that a handful of development applications be denied.
“I don’t know for sure if that had anything to do with this, but I know that myself, other councillors, builders and some citizens were getting frustrated with the amount of time it took to process applications in HRM,” he said.
Coun. Tim Outhit said he and Mayor Mike Savage were in Moncton on Tuesday when they got an email announcing Bjerke was no longer with the municipality.
Councillors weren’t given any advance warning, and Outhit doesn’t think the mayor was either.
Outhit said he is disappointed to see Bjerke go.
“I found him very bright, very personable, very professional and with a good vision for the city. I’d say a progressive vision,” Outhit said.
Outhit said he knew some people were frustrated with the planning department but he doesn’t think developers were putting pressure on the municipality’s top bureaucrat, CAO Jacques Dubé.
“Did all those things come together and factor into it? Maybe, possibly, but I don’t think developers decide who our CAO hires and fires.”
No one will say he was fired, but Halifax’s now former chief planner says he had no plans to leave the municipality.
Bob Bjerke, who was also the director of planning and development, is no longer an HRM employee, as of Tuesday afternoon.
In an interview with Metro on Wednesday, Bjerke didn’t want to get into the details of his leaving the municipality because he was advised not to. He said he’s pleased with the work he’s done, but he felt it wasn’t finished.
“I had no plans to leave,” Bjerke said. “I’m partway through the work that I was brought here to do, and there’s a lot of work left to be done here.”
Bjerke was recruited from Edmonton in 2014 to become Halifax’s first chief planner, tasked with making the planning department more efficient.
“I was brought out here to make the planning department work better, and we’re about halfway through the process that council had approved to get there,” he said.
HRM spokesperson Brendan Elliott wouldn’t confirm on Tuesday whether Bjerke was fired or quit, but said Bjerke was no longer with the municipality, effective immediately.
“As with any personnel matter, the municipality is not in a position to share details publicly,” he said.
Elliott said Kelly Denty, the municipality’s manager of current planning, will take over Bjerke’s position for now.
“We’re initiating recruitment efforts immediately to fill the position permanently, obviously as soon as we can,” Elliott said.
Coun. Matt Whitman, who said he was “not disappointed or surprised” that Bjerke was leaving, wouldn’t say he was fired, but said he doesn’t think it was Bjerke’s decision.
“In my opinion, if it was his own doing, we’d be enjoying at least two weeks wrapping up time, and the fact that it’s effective immediately makes me feel like it wasn’t his suggestion,” Whitman said.
It’s not the first time Bjerke’s been abruptly let go.
In 2011, after working for Regina for 10 years, he was fired without cause from his position as director of planning and sustainability.
Bjerke said the circumstances were different, noting a few other directors were let go around the same time, a “more general change in the overall organization.”
“Planning is about change, change in the community,” he said.
“It’s one of those things that will always be contentious.”
Bjerke’s departure comes at a time when Halifax is midway through the process of approving new development rules for the municipality, which he calls a “very exciting time for Halifax.”
“Obviously that’s not something I’ll be directly involved in, and it will be something that will have to get addressed,” he said. “It’s a very important agenda, and it’s important to have that clear leadership throughout all the different aspects of the work going on.”
Bjerke said he and his family have felt welcomed by the municipality, and he hopes to stay here.
“I’m very blessed to have the level of support that I’ve had since yesterday from the community, the development industry, colleagues and council,” he said.
Now former Halifax chief planner and director of planning and development Bob Bjerke.