Delhi councillor questions CAO hiring process

Mike Columbus jpg, DN

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Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp is being called out by a councillor alleging she failed to touch all the bases on the hiring of the county’s new CAO.

Chopp introduced Jason Burgess, Norfolk’s interim general manager of corporate services, as “our brand new, permanent CAO” to a large crowd in Simcoe on Feb. 13 at the county’s annual economic symposium.

Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus raised the matter on Feb. 18 because council – at a special closed-door meeting Jan. 30 – directed Chopp to negotiate an employment contract “with the confidential selected candidate under the agreed upon terms.”

The minutes from the Jan. 30 meeting, which was held in the boardroom at Millards Chartered Professional Accountants in Simcoe, go on to say “And the mayor report back to council at the first available meeting.”

Columbus was not pleased that the hiring was shared with the public and announced in the news media before council was debriefed.

“That would be my apologies,” Chopp told Columbus at the Feb. 18 council meeting. “We had made the announcement with Jason at the economic development forum. He’s here and he’s on board.”

Chopp went on to explain that Norfolk solicitor Paula Boutis was still working on the wording of the contract, adding that, “The terms that were established by council (Jan. 30) have all been met and not exceeded.”

Burgess – a St. Catharines-based consultant hired on contract last year – has agreed to a start date near the end of March. Until then, Bill Cridland, Norfolk’s general manager of community services, will serve as acting CAO.

“He has some personal business he has to take care of before he can come on,” Cridland said this week.

In an interview on Feb. 24, Columbus expressed displeasure that the agreed-upon process, as he understood it, was not followed.

“I understood the mayor was going to come back to us and tell us what the details of the agreement were going to be or at least report to us how it was evolving,” he said.

“I read the minutes, and that’s not what happened. I don’t believe we followed the proper process. I believe the mayor admitted that in the (council) video. It didn’t happen the way we expected it.”

Chopp said in an email on Feb. 27 that “council voted unanimously on Jason Burgess’s hiring and on the parameters within which I was to negotiate a deal with him. The county lawyer has been extremely busy and the final draft of the contract wasn’t actually prepared until last Friday, so there was nothing to report back to council.

“Council was all aware that Mr. Burgess had accepted the offer in principal.”

Stephanie Godby, deputy county clerk, said while the formal contract had not been finalized prior to the symposium, a verbal “binding agreement” had been reached.

She further said, “based on the wording of the motion”, the mayor would report back to council if an agreement wasn’t reached based on the set parameters and/or when the contract was finalized.

“The motion did not stipulate the specific meeting the matter was to come back,” she said.

If all parties are satisfied with the contract as drafted, Burgess will be the fifth person to serve as CAO in Norfolk since January 2019.

Former CAO David Cribbs suddenly resigned following an in-camera meeting with the new council early last year.

Senior staff took turns as acting CAO until that led to work backlogs. Soon after, former Niagara Region and Brampton CAO Harry Schlange came on in an interim capacity.

That lasted till Labour Day, at which time former Niagara administrator Chris McQueen arrived on the scene, also in an interim capacity. McQueen left in December, at which time Cridland agreed to serve in an acting capacity.

The issue will be brought before council at its’ next meeting, Chopp said in her email.

“At the next council meeting, in open session, we will discuss the hiring process for full transparency to the public.”

— With files from Michelle Ruby

 

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