Why We Deserve a Permanent CAO

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interim CAO
Collingwood’s interim CAO

First, a little history. Back in the spring of 2012, Collingwood Council terminated the contract with Kim Wingrove, the CAO, according to the terms in the agreement. In her place, council appointed the CEO of Collus, Ed Houghton, as interim CAO. In addition to his other duties, Houghton took the job without any compensation.

In January, 2013, council began the process of recruiting a new, permanent CAO. Houghton, an effective leader who was widely respected by staff and council, stepped down shortly afterwards. A consultant was found to begin the recruitment process.

In July, 2013, on a recommendation from the town’s then legal firm, council approved hiring John Brown, a retired former CAO, for a limited period of two months. As the media of the day reported,

Brown will only be CAO while the town searches for someone to take over the position permanently, but Mayor Sandra Cooper said it was pertinent the town have someone in the job.

In subsequent discussions, council agreed that it would be unfair to any incoming council, regardless of who was elected, to hire a permanent, full-time CAO so close to the next election. A new council, it was argued, should have the opportunity to choose its own CAO. Out of respect for a future council, the former council decided to keep the interim CAO in place so the new council could choose its own, new, permanent CAO.

But that, it seems, was a foolish gesture, soon hijacked by the new council.

Brown’s contract was extended to two years in fall, 2013. Brown himself told the former council he did not want or intend to stay longer than two years in the position. As the media reported:

As for the 26 thousand dollars that council approved for a search consultant to hire a permanent Chief Administrative Officer, John Brown says that money may be saved for two years and used then to find a replacement for him.
He says the search firm was just involved in an initial discussion and did not carry out the search so only a small part of the money set aside would have been used.

The hope of the former council was that the recruitment process for a permanent CAO would start early in 2015. That way, the new council would have the fullest opportunity to work with a permanent CAO and develop mutually satisfactory working styles with council and staff. Both would have the time necessary to work on common goals and projects and to establish their crucial working relationship.

But that was squashed almost immediately, when, in Feb. 2015, council voted 8-1 to extend the interim CAO’s contract for another year. It was soon learned that some members of council connived in private and via email to extend the contract without any public discussion.

Initially, the delayed recruitment process was to start in January, 2016. Since it was expected to take at least six months to find a suitable candidate, this would allow time for the interim CAO to work closely with the new, permanent CAO for the remaining few months of his contract. An amount was included in the 2016 budget for the recruitment process.

However, that deadline got mysteriously and inexplicably postponed from January to March. But when that arrived, it was to be torpedoed again.

In early March, 2016, shortly after approving the budget, Deputy Mayor Saunderson blindsided the mayor and the town’s human resources department by making a notice of motion to extend Brown’s contract yet again. This, like the former extension, was preceded by secret talks, and conniving privately without any public discussion.

Aside from the total lack of openness and transparency this council has exhibited during its term, aside from the secret meetings and backroom deals, aside from the disrespect this shows for staff, for the process, for the public and for any future council, it’s a bad idea.

We, the people of the Town of Collingwood, deserve better. We deserve a new, permanent CAO. Here’s why.

First, we can save a lot of money. Brown is paid $225,000 a year, plus car and expenses. That’s almost $75,000 more than Wingrove made. It’s more than $75,000 above what the CAO of Meaford makes, $50,000 more than the CAO of Wasaga Beach makes, $112,000 more than the CAO of Midland, $75,000 more than the CAO of the Town of the Blue Mountains, $58,000 more than the CAO of Orillia, and a full $117,000 more than the CAO of Clearview.

Collingwood can easily save $50-$75,000 a year or even more by hiring a new, permanent CAO; money that can be spent on public projects, events, activities, sidewalks and many more things to benefit the community. Or just to keep your taxes from rising.

Yes, we’ve already spent $100-$150,000 unnecessarily (plus the legal and consultants’ fees the interim CAO has incurred). But we can stop the bleeding by hiring a permanent CAO now.

Not to do so is fiscally irresponsible (which violates section 224 of the Municipal Act!).

Collingwood deserves better financial management.

Second, a new CAO will be more invested in the community. Brown is retired and does not live here. A new, permanent CAO will be at the top of his or her career curve and eager to build reputation and respect. A new, permanent CAO will live in the community, possibly with a family.

A new, permanent CAO will have a vested interest in the welfare of our community – in its services, its facilities, its well-being, its streets and sidewalks, and its taxes – that a commuting, interim CAO can never have.

A new, permanent CAO who lives here, who shares our accomplishments and our disappointments, will have a loyalty to this community no visitor – no matter how well paid – can ever have.

A permanent CAO will network with the other county CAOs and attend their regular meetings to share ideas, and solutions with his or her peers. A permanent CAO will visit town facilities and offsite operations, so he or she will understand how they operate and know where they are located. A permanent CAO will attend AMO conventions and workshops to learn what other municipalities are doing.

Collingwood deserves someone who will put 100% of their effort and loyalty into our town, not merely a portion of their weekday interest.

Third, a new CAO will look to the long term, the big picture, the future. The deputy mayor claimed that the interim CAO’s contract should be extended because the interim CAO still has things to accomplish, things that apparently will take 18 months. Exactly what those things are, the DM did not elaborate.

However, any new, permanent CAO can take on these roles and tasks. That’s part of stepping into someone else’s shoes: you finish the job. That was in part the reason the former council envisioned an overlap where both would work together: pass the torch, as it were.

Using the DM’s hazy rationale, no one on staff will ever retire because there will always be something to do, projects that weren’t completed in the time allotted, tasks procrastinated, left to the last minute… there will always be an excuse to stay at the desk and collect another paycheque, always something that needs another year to finish.

That’s just an excuse, and a bad one, not a valid reason for keeping someone on past their time.

A new, permanent CAO will look to the future: to the longer range: five, ten, twenty years out, not the narrow vision of six or even 18 months. Collingwood deserves someone who can embrace a bigger vision, embrace our strategic goals and our shared future.

Besides, it does not speak well of the productivity or efficiency of the interim CAO that he has been unable to accomplish his goals in three years and still needs another year. And it begs the question whether council has engaged in any formal performance review of the interim CAO (and if not, why not? doing such reviews are council’s responsibility!).

Collingwood deserves someone who participates in our future, and completes tasks on time, not just tidies up things that were not accomplished in the past.

Fourth, a new CAO will provide leadership, not simply manage the day to day activities. An interim CAO was hired as a bridge; someone to manage affairs temporarily, put out a few fires, and hold the fort until the town hired a CAO to take the reins permanently. No leadership was expected, only temporary management.

And a municipal CAO should be a leader, not just a manager. In his 2011 presentation to the Canadian Association of Municipal Administrators, David Siegel, professor of Political Science at Brock University, noted CAO’s must lead in three directions: down (through staff), up (through council) and out (through community groups, residents, media and other levels of government). And that a CAO should be, “…oriented to public interest and problem solving, rather than compartmentalization.”

Leadership is not a single act nor is it simply a position in a hierarchy: it is a relationship built from experience, from hands-on activities, from working with and beside others. Leaders implement, leaders challenge, leaders engage, leaders make champions and heroes. Managers push buttons, tell people what to do, take credit and assign blame.

No interim person can share the depth and breadth of that experience nor build the long-term relationships with staff that a permanent CAO – a leader – must and will build. That’s one reason Houghton has been so successful in his roles and was such a good interim CAO: he has the long-term experience working collaboratively with staff in many roles to be a leader, not simply a manager.

Management consultant Art Petty writes:

With the benefit of experience, your core leadership behaviors…supporting and helping, coaching and delivering feedback, and your ability to articulate vision and give it context through goal-setting and daily managing, all contribute to this deepening leadership voice.

Business News Daily has some excellent definitions of leadership culled from many sources; it’s worth taking a few minutes to read. Some of them are:

“Leadership is having a vision, sharing that vision and inspiring others to support your vision while creating their own.” – Mindy Gibbins-Klein, founder, REAL Thought Leaders

“Leadership is the ability to guide others without force into a direction or decision that leaves them still feeling empowered and accomplished.” – Lisa Cash Hanson, CEO, Snuggwugg

“Effective leadership is providing the vision and motivation to a team so they work together toward the same goal, and then understanding the talents and temperaments of each individual and effectively motivating each person to contribute individually their best toward achieving the group goal.” – Stan Kimer, president, Total Engagement Consulting by Kimer

“Leadership is the art of serving others by equipping them with training, tools and people as well as your time, energy and emotional intelligence so that they can realize their full potential, both personally and professionally.” – Daphne Mallory, family business expert, The Daphne Mallory Company

“Leadership is being bold enough to have vision and humble enough to recognize achieving it will take the efforts of many people — people who are most fulfilled when they share their gifts and talents, rather than just work. Leaders create that culture, serve that greater good and let others soar.” – Kathy Heasley, founder and president, Heasley & Partners

The Wall Street Journal’s guide to leadership says, “The leader’s job is to inspire and motivate.” The site quotes from Warren Bennis, who wrote On Becoming a Leader, noting the differences between a leader and a manager:

  • The manager administers; the leader innovates.
  • The manager is a copy; the leader is an original.
  • The manager maintains; the leader develops.
  • The manager focuses on systems and structure; the leader focuses on people.
  • The manager relies on control; the leader inspires trust.
  • The manager has a short-range view; the leader has a long-range perspective.
  • The manager asks how and when; the leader asks what and why.
  • The manager has his or her eye always on the bottom line; the leader’s eye is on the horizon.
  • The manager imitates; the leader originates.
  • The manager accepts the status quo; the leader challenges it.
  • The manager is the classic good soldier; the leader is his or her own person.
  • The manager does things right; the leader does the right thing.

You’ll find a similar list of differences on Mark Sanborn’s website.

Vision, serving others, motivation, inspiration, teamwork, goal setting, boldness, humility, cooperation, morale boosting, networking – these are the stuff of leaders. These are the things that move us towards the future, that bring together all staff for common goals, and break down silos. Managers simply have people who work for them, who tell others what to do.

Collingwood deserves a leader, not simply a manager.

Fifth, without a permanent CAO, there can be no succession planning. Succession planning is a critical part of good management in private and public sectors. You cannot have a flexible, responsive organization if it has no plan in place for what happens when someone leaves a position.

No one is irreplaceable, immovable, no one is immortal. People change jobs, move on, get sick, even die. Disasters happen.

Plans must be in place to fill their roles, to move people up or bring in new staff, to shift responsibilities and authority as necessary. Plans must be in place for someone to take on responsibilities when another cannot. But how can the town plan for succession when council keeps extending the same interim position?

Simplicity HR gives several reasons that succession planning is important, including:

  • Succession planning gives your colleagues a voice.
  • A succession plan can help sustain income and support expenses.
  • Succession planning gives you a big picture.
  • Succession planning strengthens departmental relationships.
  • Succession planning keeps the mood buoyant.

A buoyant mood means improved morale and good morale is vital to any organization. The Treasury Board of Canada advises:

Succession planning and management is an essential component of broader human resources planning and is key to delivery of Public Service renewal. Effective succession planning and management helps organizations to identify, develop and retain capable and skilled employees in line with current and projected business objectives.

Succession planning and management involves an integrated, systematic approach to identifying, developing and retaining employees in line with current and projected business objectives.

It is about developing pools of talent to fill key areas and positions that are critical to an organization’s ongoing operations and long-term goals. Succession planning helps employees to acquire the skills and competencies they need to compete for these positions when they become available. It does not entail guaranteed promotions for individual candidates.

Executives, managers and human resources professionals all play important roles in succession planning and management. So do employees, who are responsible for expressing an interest in career advancement, having learning plans and participating in opportunities to acquire capabilities in certain areas.

You cannot do proper, comprehensive succession planning with an interim CAO. Only with a permanent CAO, involving all department heads and senior staff, can it be completed. Collingwood deserves its public sector to operate effectively and it cannot do so without a good succession plan.

Sixth, the Municipal Act requires council to do the best for the municipality, not simply keep on doing things that they personally like. Section 224 of the Municipal Act says the role of council is:

224. It is the role of council,

a. to represent the public and to consider the well-being and interests of the municipality
b. to develop and evaluate the policies and programs of the municipality
c. to determine which services the municipality provides
d. to ensure that administrative policies, practices and procedures and controllership policies, practices and procedures are in place to implement the decisions of council
(d.1) to ensure the accountability and transparency of the operations of the municipality, including the activities of the senior management of the municipality
e. to maintain the financial integrity of the municipality and
f. to carry out the duties of council under this or any other act.”

To extend the contract of an interim CAO, knowing that a permanent CAO is in the best interests of the municipality, knowing that it is not financially sound, knowing that does not benefit the public or staff, would be to violate both the law and the spirit of the Act.

Collingwood deserves a council that works in the public’s best interests, not its own, individual personal and private interests.

Finally: Collingwood deserves openness and transparency. Despite election promises, this council has been the most secretive, unaccountable council in the past 25 years.

All discussions about the CAO position, even the generic one about interim versus permanent positions, have to date been held in secret, usually between small groups out of the public eye. That runs counter to every notion of open, democratic government.

To date this council has held secret, closed-door meetings about far too many issues: the airport and its future, about selling the airport, about our utility services, about breaking up our utilities, about selling our electrical utility to Ontario Hydro, selling the rail line, the waterfront, the illegal press release sent out by two renegade members, about violations of the code of conduct, and many other issues.

The discussion about extending the interim CAO’s contract or continue with the recruitment of a permanent CAO should be held in public with public input. It should involve comment from HR about succession planning, from treasury about financial implications, from business leaders about engagement, from our utility services about cooperation. It should be PUBLIC and OPEN.

Collingwood deserves an open, accountable and transparent council that discusses issues of public interest IN PUBLIC. We deserve a council that opens the floor for public input into issues that involve the public interest, not scurries behind closed doors to plot our future in secret.

We deserve better, much better, than the secretive cabal at the table. Collingwood DESERVES a new, permanent CAO. It is simply the right thing to do.

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3 Replies to “Why We Deserve a Permanent CAO”

  1. Of course, the proper thing for the town would be to start the recruitment immediately. If the interim CAO still wants the job, he can apply like everyone else. That would give council the opportunity to see the potential candidates and weigh their strengths, assess what they would bring to the longterm good of the town and make a more fully informed decision.

    That would be the open and transparent process, the most accountable way to proceed. Which is likely something this council doesn’t have the stomach for. Why start to be accountable now after operating so long without it?

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