Simon Farbrother named City Manager in Spruce Grove

Former Spruce Grove city manager led city between 1997 and 2004

The City of Spruce Grove has its next City Manager.

Simon Farbrother was introduced at Monday's council meeting, and returns to Spruce Grove after serving as City Manager between 1997 and 2004.

He says there are plenty of new challenges to take on this time around.

"I've watched the city grow, the city's almost twice the size it was since I left, and there's some great things been going on. The city plays a significant role in the broader regional context, which is really important. And I just felt that I could make a difference. I've always been a builder, I ike to be involved in initiatives and projects where people are trying to do better things," he said.

"The community is different - it's not about stepping back into the past. This is a different community, it's a different council, it's a different administration.So very much in the early days, it's about working with council, getting understanding of the key issues, working with staff, understanding some of the challenges, and then starting to set the tone for the organization," he said.

Farbrother is replacing Robert Cotterill, who retired from the position on May 3.

He was also the city manager who negotiated the construction of the Tri Leisure Centre, and also led negotiations for Rogers Place and the Ice District during his tenure in Edmonton.

Farbrother says he believes his experience on those files was considered to be an asset, especially with a potential sports and entertainment centre on the horizon.

"Any project needs to be successful in terms of community benefit, financially in terms of justifying the expense, and a project that helps the city build. And I'm assuming that over the next number of months, we'll look at the potential of the new arena project in that kind of light."

Along with Edmonton, Farbrother also worked as a city manager in Waterloo, Ontario.

Despite some successes in Edmonton, city council fired Farbrother from his position in September 2015.

The dismissal came a month after council grilled its City Manager, after an auditor cited administrative mismanagement as the reason the city's new Metro LRT line was facing constant delays. That project opened roughly a year-and-a-half after original projections. 

However, Mayor Don Iveson said the decision was not based on any one project that the city was undertaking.

Seven months later, CBC News published an investigation that revealed Farbrother had logged 52 trips that amounted to 212 days out of the city, in the three-and-a-half years before he was let go. That led to expenses of nearly $140,000 of public money.

Despite criticism from some members of council, the expenses didn't violate any of the city's policies, which allowed for the city manager to approve his own travel plans. The investigation led to the city upping its transparency, as it now requires city managers to publicize their expenses online.

When asked whether Farbrother's past experiences were concerning, Mayor Stuart Houston responded with a statement:

Council is extremely confident in the decision to appoint Simon Farbrother to lead the City of Spruce Grove.

We did a thorough and detailed process with a professional executive search team.  We asked specific questions about the history and experiences of each candidate and went through a lengthy vetting of each as well.  

We are confident in the process, the decision made and the value of Simon's experience, including his many successes with the City of Edmonton and his over 25 years of municipal service, in leading the City at this time.

The City of Spruce Grove also confirmed that its policy requires that the Mayor (or Deputy Mayor, if necessary) sign off on the City Manager's expense report.

Community and Protective Services GM David Wolanski will continue to handle the City Manager's position on an interim basis for the next two weeks, until Farbrother starts on July 8.

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