• Bruce Malcom

Musical Chairs

Updated: Nov 30, 2019

Where Will Your Municipality Be When The Music Stops?

“Today’s municipal recruiting environment is like a game of reverse musical chairs … more and more chairs and fewer and fewer people.” DBM 1950

Here’s a story that will inform you…it might even alarm you:

The only thing the red faced Councillors could do was look at the papers in front of them and shuffle their feet. Everything had been going so well. All indicators were pointing to a successful and productive year for the city. Their collective heads hung, as now, suddenly, they were facing a challenge of unprecedented proportions. During the preceding 15 minutes the CAO had delivered her body blow to Council, now no one knew where to look …the message left everyone gasping. “I will retire before the next municipal election”.

You could have heard a pin drop as she explained that she and her husband, the local High School principal, had decided over the summer that he would not to return to the school this fall and she would seek ways retire as soon as possible. “But, what about us?” one Councillor pleaded. She said she understood. She said she knew that everyone was counting on her, “but the house has already been listed and the sign will go up later tonight, after the Council meeting”. She explained that as a couple they were anxious to move to their retirement home… “it will be best for everyone”, she said.

While everyone at Council was still reeling from that news, the HR Committee reported on another development; both the Director of Operations and the Director of Planning turn 60 this year and they too have been making noises about leaving, “… likely this fall or early next spring at the latest”.  As if that news was not bad enough, the report went on: “Key people up and down the line in all departments, in essential positions, are right now; also considering how much longer they want to work”.

No one was happy as they agreed to a 15 minute break. Then came the big shocker!

Everyone had assumed that the young man hired as Treasurer, just last year …as part of the official “succession plan” would someday be the ideal candidate for CAO. When the head of the HR Committee broached the subject during the recess the young man squirmed in his seat as he tried to explain why he would likely accept a new position elsewhere …”half the responsibility for almost twice the money”. If this all sounds like fiction writing to you – think again! These days literally hundreds of towns and cities across North America are facing this same dilemma, in one form or another, every week. One person described the problem created by the rash of retirements this way: “the whole thing reminds me of reverse musical chairs – more and more empty chairs and fewer and fewer people”.

So, let me ask you, where will your municipality be when the music stops?


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