COMMENT: A problematic process, but respect to the new CAO

Andrew Bennett
By Andrew Bennett
September 20th, 2012

Dear Laurie Charlton,

I write in response to your recent condemnation of council’s process in hiring our new CAO/CFO.

I’ve added some headings to break things up.

Yup, council screwed up

I agree. Council made a big mistake when they decided to keep CAO Victor Kumar’s resignation confidential, limited their job search to a single candidate, and then failed to tell the public about it for more than two months.

From the standpoint of a democrat, this opaque hiring of a new CAO—a government position funded by six-figure taxes from a four-figure population—is utterly dissatisfying and, ultimately, disrespectful to us, the people of Rossland.

I don’t understand how Mayor Greg Granstrom thinks he can paint this secrecy as “respect” for the outgoing and incoming CAO. Excuse me? If someone can explain how “respect” for these two people would have been offended by announcing a job vacancy, I’m all ears.

What about respect for those of us who pay the bills? Yes, council, we’re quite pleased you’ve managed to eliminate a management position by combining the CAO and CFO. If one person can do it as well as two, that’s fine and dandy.

Nor did we want to sit in on the interview! We just thought there might be something like a job ad in the classifieds, that’s all. What about respect for all the potential CAO/CFO’s out there? What about transparency and accountability?

And what about checking out the new CAO/CFO contract with an independent lawyer, as Sara Golling suggested? Did council do that? In any case, there’s nothing to do now except wait until the contract is released on Oct. 1. Do you know any lawyers out there willing to do a little pro bono, post hoc contract review?

But—and this is an enormous, whopping, but—while I believe these egregious failures by council are part of an unfortunate pattern of unnecessary secrecy that has characterized Victor Kumar’s leadership, these issues are absolutely, completely separate from the competence of incoming CAO/CFO Cecile Arnott.

Give peace a chance

I hope others agree with me that Ms. Arnott’s next chapter in the book of Rossland is fresh and unwritten. She deserves every respect and every opportunity to fulfil her responsibilities to the town; she deserves to write her own chapter.

At this point, the signatures are on dotted lines. Council’s chosen process marred her new beginning, it’s true. But it was not Ms. Arnott’s fault: it was council’s.

I found the tone of your letter suggested that Ms. Arnott is somehow ill qualified for the job, but I didn’t find your arguments at all compelling. On the contrary, the job-hopping list rather encouraged me that she has a lot of different experiences as a manager.

According to you, Ms. Arnott was CFO in Rossland when the city lowered business taxes and raised residential taxes—disproportionately towards higher valued homes, you say, due to the elimination of the Transportation Parcel Tax.

First, I have yet to verify these statements for myself. Secondly, even if these events happened, they were “decisions of council,” as the mayor likes to say. Thirdly, my initial reaction is that changing taxes like that could make sense under a broad range of circumstances.

My opinion of Ms. Arnott is also influenced by an interview with her last week that we’ve just published. I was struck by her strong communication skills and no-nonsense style. She fielded hard questions with humour, patience, and tact.

You’ll be interested to know that I asked:

“A resident wrote in, “The way council’s going, rubber-stamping everything Victor and Greg say, people are going to elect Laurie Charlton because they think no one’s being a watchdog.” What’s your experience with Laurie Charlton, and how would you plan to work with him as a councillor if he were to be elected again?”

She answered:

“Whoo. That I’m not going to comment on, since I don’t think it’s fair to me or to Mr. Charlton. If Mr. Charlton were back on council, I would deal with him the same way that I would deal with any other councillor, the same way that I did when he was here before: open; I have my integrity; I give professional recommendations and stand behind them. And that’s all I can do, just be who I am.”

At council on Monday, Coun. Jill Spearn said you harassed Ms. Arnott out of Rossland. In fact, Coun. Jill Spearn was spitting mad about your article in general. The mayor was right behind, asking council approval for a letter he’d already drafted to reject your comments. For better or for worse, you sure can ruffle feathers!

And I can see why. On the one hand, the new CAO hasn’t even started her job and, according to you, she’s all wrong already. That’s not fair to Ms. Arnott and I share council’s objection.

On the other hand, you’ve touched a real, genuine nerve.

Bullseye, Mr. Charlton!

Why did council keep Victor Kumar’s resignation a secret? Why did they think it appropriate to fill the position without a publicly-posted vacancy followed by interviews of several candidates?

I agree with you, it’s highly problematic. I feel as though some on council have an inflated impression of their right to closed-door conferences, a “governance ego,” a sense of entitlement to make decisions without regard for due process. I think these councillors should revisit their philosophies of public service.

Unlike you, however, I maintain optimism that council will turn over a new leaf with a new CAO. It is absolutely possible to separate most public policy debates from questions that require tactful privacy.

The latest example, of course, is the issue of broadband. I think council’s made a great decision on the matter, but why was it debated entirely in camera?

The New Rossland Order—may it live up to council’s transparent rhetoric

Yes, Mr. Charlton, I think every councillor should read section 90 of the Community Charter, which strictly governs the use of closed-door council meetings. In it, they will find that only subsections (e) and (k) could reasonably apply in this situation:

In camera meetings are permitted for:

“90 (e) the acquisition, disposition or expropriation of land or improvements, if the council considers that disclosure could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality;”


“90 (k) negotiations and related discussions respecting the proposed provision of a municipal service that are at their preliminary stages and that, in the view of the council, could reasonably be expected to harm the interests of the municipality if they were held in public;”

In either case, we face the inevitable question: Why did council expect that debate on the six internet options could have harmed the interests of the municipality?

That’s right council, just blame the media

Even Coun. Spearn seems to desire a muzzled media, openly objecting to the Telegraph as a whole on the grounds that we publish your column.

Should I stop reading the Globe and Mail just because Margaret Wente is a wholesale wingnut 95 per cent of the time? In addition to fair and factual reports, we believe it is our duty to freely disseminate a wide variety of points of view—including yours, including council’s, including mine, and including whoever else wants to comment.

Does Coun. Spearn think we are simple-minded folk who believe everything we read? I beg to differ: our readers have minds of their own, appreciate a broad palette of opinions to read, and form better opinions of their own as a consequence.

It’s hardly helpful to refuse to engage in a discussion just because one doesn’t agree.

So thank you Mr. Charlton for offering such intriguing fodder, much as I disagree with most of it. Debate and differences of opinion are the backbone of democracy.


Andrew Bennett

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