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HomeBusinessNew Westminster city hall downplays sudden retirement of fire chief Tim Armstrong

New Westminster city hall downplays sudden retirement of fire chief Tim Armstrong

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Bob Mackin

Why did the City of New Westminster’s fire chief retire with only six days notice and receive no official public recognition for serving 12 years? 

When theBreaker.news began asking about the sudden retirement of Tim Armstrong, Mayor Jonathan Cote and Chief Administrative Officer Lisa Spitale referred queries to Richard Fong, the Royal City’s human resources director.

Fong provided copies of two memos. One sent by Spitale on Oct. 22, informing staff that Armstrong decided to retire after 12 years as chief, effective Oct. 28.

“During that time period [Armstrong] has brought forward many improvements to the Fire and Rescue Services in New Westminster,” Spitale wrote. “Kindly join me in wishing Tim Armstrong good wishes in his retirement.”

Fong also provided a letter to staff from Armstrong dated Oct. 28, that said he decided to retire, “after some much needed holiday time and reflecting on what the next chapter in life might look like.”

“Having served 40 years this month in the fire service and public safety, it has been a difficult decision, but it is time for a change,” Armstrong’s letter said.

He thanked “all the staff for their dedication and support over the years,” but made no mention of senior managers or city council. Nor did the letter explain why there was only a six-day gap between the memos. 

There was no official public announcement of Armstrong’s departure, including on the city’s social media channels. There also did not appear to be any mention at the Nov. 1 city council meeting. Interim fire chief Curtis Bremner was introduced without fanfare during a council budget workshop, but there was no mention of Armstrong.

When theBreaker.news asked why there was no official public announcement of Armstrong’s retirement and whether he received any departure payments, in addition to holiday pay and a pension, Fong clammed-up. 

“Issuing public announcements to accompany retirements is not a normal city practice,” Fong said. “Any details about retirements are personal information and the city does not discuss personnel issues publicly.”

That is not true. The New Westminster Police Department website still shows a Jan. 5, 2011 announcement of chief Lorne Zapotichny’s retirement, which was effective at the end of February 2011.

Cote, coincidentally, announced on Jan. 1 that he would retire from the mayoralty at the end of his term next fall. He did not respond to a second query about whether there are additional costs to taxpayers and why Armstrong left the job with fewer than two weeks notice. 

Spitale did respond, but she said “any details about retirements are personal information and the city does not discuss personnel issues publicly.  I have nothing further to add.”

New Westminster chief administrative officer Lisa Spitale (New Westminster)

Coincidentally, the chief of a fire department in a suburb of Denver, Colo., with a career trajectory akin to Armstrong, announced his retirement on Jan. 10. 

Chief Doug Hall said his 43 years in firefighting, including 10 years as chief of the Westminster Fire Department, will end July 3. 

For 2020, the most-recent year available, New Westminster taxpayers paid Armstrong $194,802. He billed $3,827 in expenses. 

In early 2020, the Justice Institute of B.C. awarded Armstrong an honorary doctor of laws degree. Armstrong joined Vancouver Fire and Rescue Services at age 21 and rose the ranks over 28 years to become Deputy Chief. He became New Westminster’s fire chief in 2009 and also served as the Royal City’s director of emergency management. His career also included training firefighters in Canada, U.S. and Taiwan. 

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