The continuing search for a new chief administrator for Niagara-on-the-Lake is not being subjected to any outside or third-party influences, Lord Mayor Betty Disero says.
Two councillors have resigned from the CAO search committee and one, Coun. Clare Cameron, expressed concerns about the possibility of “personal political or other third party influence” during the recruitment process.
Disero said that is “absolutely not” occuring. “I know for a fact that that was not happening.”
In the wake of the resignations of Cameron and veteran Coun. Gary Burroughs, Couns. Allan Bisback, Wendy Cheropita and Sandra O’Connor were added to the search committee. Disero and Coun. Erwin Wiens remain on it.
At council’s Sept. 28 meeting, Cameron read out her reasons for resigning.
“I feel very strongly that even the slightest spectre of personal political or other third party influence creeping into any aspect of the CEO hiring process could undermine the quality of final recruitment and significantly erode the public’s trust in this organization,” she said in her statement.
“Given these convictions, I am most comfortable at this time to participate in next steps for CAO recruitment as a member of council, rather than as a member of the CAO selection committee.”
When contacted by a reporter, she declined to clarify whether she thought there was any third-party influence at play in the hiring process.
Burroughs said he had some concerns about the committee “moving away from the consultant” who was hired to oversee the search.
“As soon as we (got) away from what I determined was the process, that’s when I resigned,” he said in an interview.
He added he doesn’t think anything “crooked” is going on, he just thinks it’s important to be careful.
“We should all be watching carefully. That’s all. There’s nobody being crooked or anything at this point at all.”
Having been involved in CAO hirings before, two of which were found to not have followed the proper process, Burroughs said he was worried.
“Basically, I’ve been on three CAO searches, one at the town and two at the region, so my concern was that we followed the process that was outlined,” he said.
When asked about Cameron’s statement regarding third-party influence, Burroughs said he’s not sure whether the process is being followed.
“I have no idea if there’s anybody not following that process. But the concern is always — the ombudsman was very clear — you cannot have any (third-party influence) coming into the situation. My concern was, again, the process. And because I’ve seen that not work, two of the three times. That’s why I was concerned and that’s why I eventually resigned.”
He said of the three searches he was involved with “at least two of them ended up not following what should have been done.”
“And so that’s why I was fixated on making sure this one for the new search followed the rules as outlined.”
The committee was “quite far along” in the process before his resignation, he said.
“We hadn’t got down to evaluating individuals. Well, we had in the sense that we each picked the ones that we thought would go on to the next stage but at that point we didn’t go on.”
He said a scorecard system was being used to evaluate candidates.
Burroughs said he thinks the hiring of a new CAO is “one of the biggest decisions that the town can make and really directs the future of the town, at least in the next few years.”
“And so that’s why it’s so important to get it right and not be influenced by anybody else than the consultants,” Burroughs said.
“But as soon as you get off the list that was provided, even if they were on another list. That just puts my ears up.”
Bisback said he doesn’t think the process will be delayed by the change of councillors, but that the committee will follow the proper process, however long that takes.
“I think the focus of everyone is like, ‘Do this right,’ so whether it’s two weeks, two months, do it right, follow the process,” he said.
“And in typically my past life, these consultants are professionals and they will make sure we follow the proper process and procedures. They won’t short-circuit.”
During the council discussion, Disero said the resignations came after the original four council members could not come to an agreement on one of the issues of the hiring process. She said she brought that issue into a private meeting to get council’s opinion. During that meeting on Sept. 21, Cameron and Burroughs both resigned.
That meeting was held in private because names of CAO candidates could have been discussed, said Disero.