One plank in the platform of almost every Sooke council candidate in this fall’s election campaign was to immediately hire a new chief administrative officer for the district.
That promise seems to be on the road to being kept as, at only their second meeting in the new term of office, council approved $17,000 to hire Waterhouse Executive Search to identify the best candidate for the vacant CAO position.
The contract and the use of a professional “head-hunting” firm are in stark contrast to the last hiring process for a CAO in which search expenses were saved when, in 2015, the council opted to strike a three-member in-house hiring committee.
In December 2015, acting on the advice of the hiring committee, council announced the hiring of a new CAO, Teresa Sullivan.
But the work of that committee and the subsequent hiring was controversial from the outset when it was revealed the new CAO had a prior professional relationship with the chair of the hiring committee.
Sullivan’s tenure continued to be problematic as she had barely arrived in Sooke when her finance director and municipal engineer both resigned their position, followed only a few months later by the the fire chief.
Troubles continued in 2016 when Sullivan reported an incident outside her home in which she said that a group of people had gathered and shouted obscenities and insults at her home.
By February 2018, Sullivan was no longer in the position (the exact nature of that departure was never revealed), leaving finance director Brent Blackwell in the acting CAO position.
Sullivan was the sixth CAO for the district since its incorporation in 1999.
Sooke is not the only municipality in the region with CAO challenges.
Rob Buchan, the CAO in the District of North Saanich, announced his retirement from the his position after eight years on the job.
He had attracted some attention in 2011 after the North Saanich council agreed to pay him $26,000 for what Mayor Alice Finnall called “his treatment at the hands of the previous municipal council”.
A search for Buchan’s successor is underway.
No timeline for the current search for Sooke’s next CAO has been disclosed, although the standard procedure for the use of an executive search firm would call for the firm to come up with a short list of candidates and leave the final decision on hiring to council