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Jul. 27, 2021 | Tuesday
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Council treads carefully in search for new CAO
Town's director of operations Sheldon Randall is currently filling in as an interim chief administrative officer since former CAO Holly Dowd left administration in August. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

As Niagara-on-the-Lake council searches for a new chief administrative officer, some town councillors say the Ontario ombudsman report on the controversial hiring of Niagara Region’s CAO was released just in time.

The town’s committee of the whole approved hiring Legacy Partners Executive Search firm at a cost of $25,000 to handle the CAO recruitment process. The decision requires full council approval at its next meeting, on Monday, Dec. 9.

Former CAO Holly Dowd, who worked for the town for 37 years, retired in August.

Town staff reached out to other municipalities to learn how they have handled executive searches. Some municipalities do in-house recruitments while others hire search firms, staff said in the report.

Council has also appointed Lord Mayor Betty Disero, councillors Erwin Wiens, Clare Cameron and Gary Burroughs to a selection committee to help in the recruitment process.

Cameron issued a notice of motion for the next council meeting to include 15 recommendations from the provincial ombudsman’s report among the selection committee’s terms of reference.

“We’ve been blessed with the Ontario ombudsman report coming out just within the last week,” she said.

“It’s been said multiple times in the coverage of that report what went on up there is exactly the kind of thing that every municipality in Ontario should be safeguarding themselves to ensure it doesn’t occur elsewhere.”

Burroughs said he was on the regional council during the last term when the “fiasco” with the hiring of the CAO took place.

“I’m thrilled it came out just in time because we need to be very proud of the process and … I’m 100 per cent supportive because having been there, you’re not always aware of what everybody else is doing,” Burroughs said. 

“As long as the rules are clear, I think it’ll be an excellent process that we go through.”

The ombudsman determined that the hiring of regional CAO Carmen D’Angelo in 2016 was an “inside job” that was tainted when D’Angelo was improperly given information in advance, including interview questions. 

Town staff contacted four firms during a request for proposal process. Three firms responded: the Burke Group, Legacy Partners Executive Search and Feldman Daxon Partners Inc.

Selection committee members met with the town’s human resources generalist, Sarah Stevens, to review the proposals.

To ensure confidentiality, the documents were not sent electronically and could only be viewed at the town hall. Submissions were also reviewed separately from financial propositions, according to the staff report.

Once councillors completed score sheets, Stevens used an average score to determine which recruitment firm to recommend.

Town staff then recommended hiring Legacy Partners Executive Search as it had the lowest price, a flat fee of $25,000, as well as the highest score.

Feldman Daxon Partners Inc. proposed a flat fee of $30,000, while the Burke Group’s proposal suggested 20 per cent of the successful candidate’s first year’s salary.

Disero, who chairs the selection committee, said any “backtalk” about the hiring process may bring councillors “trouble” and advised them to refrain from engaging with the public on the matter.

“I’m very cautious now because of the intensity of the investigation that has just taken place at the region,” Disero told councillors.

“It makes me think not just twice but three or four times before I answer any emails or whatever because there are going to be, whether we like it or not, people looking to call for an investigation on what we’ve done for whatever reason.”

Disero made several amendments to the staff report. Town council then voted in favour of having the selection committee come back with an outline on the process, its associated costs and timeline.

It referred the terms of reference to the selection committee and wants the CAO job description reviewed by the committee.

“I think it’s fantastic that people are watching us. I think that it is a wonderful thing if people are expecting us to be open and transparent. I think that’s excellent,” Cameron said.

“I have great faith in the council that we’ll be operating above board. We would be complete idiots to be doing anything but that.”