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Provincial report influences Town discussion of CAO search

Lord Mayor Betty Disero advises proceeding with caution in the search for a new CAO.
Lord Mayor Betty Disero advises proceeding with caution in the search for a new CAO. (File photo)

With the recent release of an ombudsman report on the hiring of the former regional chief administrator, Niagara-
on-the-Lake town councillors are proceeding with caution during the upcoming search to replace CAO Holly Dowd, who retired in August.

The provincial watchdog tasked with investigating the hiring of the regional CAO in 2016 has determined it was an “inside job,” tainted with improper disclosure of information to the successful candidate, Carmen D’Angelo. The ombudsman offered 16 recommendations to improve hiring practices in the future, all of which were accepted by regional council.

At Monday’s committee of the whole meeting in NOTL, councillors agreed to spend $25,000 to hire Legacy Partners Executive Search Firm for the recruitment of a CAO. 

Some councillors expressed disappointment with the process of getting to that point — rather than sending out a public request for tenders, staff reached out to other municipalities who have recently recruited a CAO. They then asked four recommended firms to submit proposals. Three replied, and council members were given the opportunity to review the submissions independently of costs. To ensure confidentiality, the documents were not sent electronically and were not permitted to leave the building. Legacy had the highest score for its proposal, as well as the lowest price, said the staff report under discussion Monday.

“We’ve been blessed with the Ontario ombudsman report in the last week about the extremely unsuccessful hiring at the region,” said Coun. Clare Cameron, referring to the timing.

“What went on up there is what every municipality should be safeguarding themselves against, ensuring it doesn’t happen elsewhere.”

Cameron suggested adopting the provincial ombudsman’s recommendations, several of which refer directly to the hiring process, for the selection committee to follow, but was told that would be better dealt with as a notice of motion for a later date.

Cameron is one of four council members on the CAO selection committee, which also includes Lord Mayor Betty Disero and Couns. Gary Burroughs and Erwin Wiens.

Cameron also questioned the role of interim CAO Sheldon Randall in the selection process — the role is not clearly defined, she said, suggesting it “odd” he be included.

Disero said she didn’t want to put Randall in an awkward position of having to be part of the process to choose his future boss, but Randall said he has been clear “from day one” he’s not applying for the job.

He has been in the situation of being interim CAO involved in the process of hiring a new CAO in the past, he said, and worked with the consultant and the selection committee, but had no part in the hiring decision. He said if he is involved in this recruitment, he would assume his role to be the same.

Coun. Erwin Wiens made a strong case for having Randall involved. Although the hiring is a council decision, the interim CAO is the only person to be a “conduit to the staff” that the new CAO would be working with daily, Wiens said. “Not involving him would be a catastrophe, in my opinion. We have to find someone who would mesh with the staff.” Wiens said it’s common to have a CAO assist with the selection of his replacement, and not to include Randall in the search “would be a big mistake.”

Disero spoke of being very cautious because of the intensity of the investigation that has just taken place at the region. “It makes me think not just twice but three or four times before I send an email.”

There could come a time when an investigation is called into what council has done throughout the recruitment process, she said.

“I am so concerned now the process we follow be as clean as possible.”

She said she had heard from some members of council that there has been “backtalk behind the scenes” which could cause trouble, and encouraged council members not to engage with the public on any recommendations that could have an impact on decision-making.

She suggested the selection committee discuss with Randall what role he might play, and also that the committee review the scope of their search — including whether it is to be nation-wide — and the associated costs, to be confirmed by council.

She’d like the recruiter to begin advertising for the position in January, she said.

In response to a question to have more councillors involved in the selection, clerk Peter Todd clarified all meetings of the committee will be in public, with some exemptions, including interviews, to be held in closed session.

Burroughs reminded councillors he was on regional council, “when this fiasco took place with the CAO hiring. I’m thrilled the (ombudsman) report came out just in time so we can learn some lessons from the recommendations.”

Councillors agreed that the selection committee be asked to review the job description for a future CAO, confirm the role of the interim CAO, and come back to council for approval, also with a timeline and associated costs.

“As far as the idea of transparency and people looking at this process, I think it’s fantastic people are watching,” said Coun. Cameron. “Expecting us to be open and transparent is excellent. I have great faith in the council that’s here, that we’ll be operating above-board. We’d be complete idiots to be doing anything but that,” she said.

“Now is the time to step up to the plate and for everybody who is part of a public organization, elected or not, to walk the walk, talk the talk, and do things right.”