So long, says coun­cil­lor to chief plan­ner

Bob Bjerke’s three-year ten­ure ends abruptly

StarMetro Halifax - - NEWS - Zane Wood­ford Metro | Hal­i­fax

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.

Twit­ter

Now for­mer Hal­i­fax chief plan­ner and direc­tor of plan­ning and de­vel­op­ment Bob Bjerke.

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