Communication, not defence now on agency's agenda, says tar ponds official

By Tanya Collier Macdonald
Cape Breton Post
Tues., Mar. 6, 2007

SYDNEY - With cleanup plans now approved, the Sydney Tar Ponds Agency no longer needs a 'scrappy ink slinger' to fight its battles. "Our focus was on defending as opposed to getting out there and engaging and communicating with the public," said Frank Potter, who was promoted to the position of agency president last week. "(The public) expects us to keep them informed of how the work is progressing. That's a different focus for us."

Consultants were hired in November to review the inner workings of the agency. Potter said the consultant's report focused on ways to implement the project and steps needed to shake its contentious past. "This was a significant time to stop and take a look at how prepared the agency was for moving ahead with the cleanup," he said.

The shift meant ditching Parker Donham, the agency's main spokesperson for six years. Donham was told Friday his position had been eliminated. He was given six months severance about $45,000. "Part of Parker's expertise and time was focused on the past," said Potter. "With the changing, diminished role for some of the communication activities in certain areas, we weren't able to justify having one director with one person reporting to him when part of the role for that director was no longer necessary."

Potter said Donham worked to defend the agency's cleanup plan, got it through the assessment process and developed strategic communication plans. John Chesal, the agency's communications officer, will work to implement those plans. "It wasn't a performance issue; it was all centred around the restructuring," he said. "I don't'anticipate that we'll see a major review like this again."

Potter said the agency is now split into two divisions instead of four. The director of engineering and director of environmental services roles were combined to make room for one project director. The agency is seeking a seasoned professional for that job. The director of engineering job was held by Barb Baillie, who left in December to pursue other opportunities. Wilf Kaiser, the former acting director of environmental services, is now the agency's manager of environmental services.

The second division is support services. Potter said he doesn't anticipate any additional job changes or terminations.

tcmacdonald@cbpost.com