Council retains final authority over selection and appointment of senior staff, if new bylaw is approved

UPDATED: Council delays final reading of administrative bylaw

Council Monday held off passing a bylaw that would give council ultimate authority in the hiring of staff.

The bylaw, along with two other related house-keeping bylaws, was sitting at third reading heading into Monday’s council meeting.

Coun. Judy Brownoff asked for the postponment because of concerns about the bylaw’s impact on staff hiring. Specifically, she wanted chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson to answer questions about how the bylaw might impact the hiring of operational staff. Council approved the postponment — which also impacted two related bylaws — unanimously.

Council’s decision marks a temporary delay in the expected passage of the Officers and Administrative Structure Bylaw, 2017. Its primary impact concerns the selection and appointment of senior staff.

While staff under the leadership of the chief administrative officer (CAO) will continue to handle the recruitment of senior staff, council will have the final say in the selection and appointment of staff.

“This is going to ultimately require council’s approval for either of these things to proceed, which would be selection and appointment,” said Mayor Richard Atwell last week. “For me, I want [contracts] to be captured as well. I do want to see all of the contracts.”

Atwell said he is especially interested in seeing provisions dealing with severance packages to avoid any future financial surprises.

“We don’t want to get involved in the recruitment, but I believe that we need to be involved in the contract and that we need to be involved in the appointment,” he said. Virtually most cases will not require much work from council, he said. “But I do believe council needs to have the control and not delegate this way. This is very important for council to retain and there is no harm to retain it.”

These points emerged as council considered the new bylaw during its last meeting on July 10 following a presentation by Ken Watson, director legislative services.

The bylaw as presented last week proposed that the CAO select and appoint senior staff categorized as officers of the district. These positions include among others the CAO, department heads, in some cases their deputies, the police and fire chief. ,

Under the current process, council does not hire senior staff that qualify as officers per se, the public heard from acting chief administrative officer Laura Ciarniello. It instead meets them informally following their selection. It also receives a recommendation from staff to appoint them as officers.

Several members of council including Coun. Leif Wergeland and Coun. Fred Haynes however raised questions about this approach.

Describing such an informal meeting, Haynes wondered what the point of it was. While nobody had ever questioned a hiring choice by a CAO during all of his years on council, it is important for council to retain the final say, added Wergeland.

These and other points eventually led council to amend the proposed bylaw, which also creates two new officer positions to the existing ones: director of building, bylaw, licensing and legal services, and municipal solicitor. Their creation flowed directly out of this budget’s process and requires Saanich to amend its administrative structure.

Ciarniello told the public that Saanich will communicate the organizational changes once the district has come closer to hiring the new positions.