Does Rossland actually have a CAO? Do we even need a CAO?
The City’s obscenely overpaid Chief Administrative Officer has been noticeably absent from Council meetings for the last couple of months. Where has she been? According to information provided by Corporate Officer Tracey Butler, Cecile Arnott has been on medical leave since October 11 and could be gone for as much as two months.
Normally one would not question the unexplained absence of an individual from a position of responsibility for medical reasons. In Ms. Arnott’s case this current absence is in addition to other lengthy absences from her duties as Chief Administrative Officer and Financial Officer (CAO/FO). These absences have had significant consequences for the efficient functioning of the City and Council.
In the 2012 Annual Report, Ms. Arnott states that her official start date was March 1, 2013. That’s an unseemly misrepresentation of the facts. According to Ms. Arnott’s lucrative and one-sided contract, the official commencement of her employment was October 1, 2012. She was, however, absent from City Hall for most of the time from October 1, 2012 until March 1, 2013. These absences were allowed by provisions of her contract.
According to her contract, for the period from October 1 to December 31, her work schedule was “flexible”. Apparently, that meant she could work whenever she felt like it at the rate of $605.15 per day. Payment for anything she earned in 2012 was supposed to be deferred until March 31, 2013. It is not known how many days she actually put in an appearance at City Hall in 2012 or how much she earned to be deferred to 2013.
When I asked for information about her earnings for 2012 through Freedom of Information, I was told that she had received no earnings in 2012 so there was no pay statement available. This arrangement did not sit well with the City’s auditors who explained in a letter to the City that even if she didn’t receive any money in 2012, she was still required by the Canada Revenue Agency to declare the income in the 2012 calendar year. One has to ask why someone who is paid as much as she is to be the Financial Officer for the City didn’t know such a basic provision of the Income Tax Act.
One also has to ask why Council didn’t have Ms. Arnott’s outrageous contract reviewed by a lawyer skilled in employment contracts before they agreed to it. Perhaps it’s because they were told by the City’s former CAO that it was okay and the rubber stamps came out again.
Ms. Arnott took an unpaid vacation from January 1, 2013 to February 28, 2013.
As a result of her absence, Council did not receive information about the 2013 budget until it was circulated to Council at a meeting on April 23. The budget was then rushed through with very little time for Council to consider or discuss it and it was adopted at a special meeting on May 8th. It appears that the rubber stamps were very busy in those two brief meetings where the budget was on the agenda.
Also, as a result of the absence of Ms. Arnott early in the year, the annual audit of the City’s financial statements, which must be prepared by the Financial Officer, did not begin until after the deadline for submission of the audited statements to the Inspector of Municipalities. The City received a letter from the Ministry in early June advising the City that the delay in providing the financial information could affect the credit rating of the Province. The letter also advised that all bylaw approvals and grant payments would be suspended if the required financial reports were not submitted as soon as possible.
These serious delays in the provision of key financial information by the CAO/FO should not have been tolerated by Council. But they were. Shame on them.
Besides the lengthy absences described above, Ms. Arnott’s contract allows her 6 weeks holidays plus up to an additional 2 weeks holidays in lieu of overtime. Wow! Eight weeks of holidays to recover from the rigors of running the City.
But who’s running the City right now? Others have had to pick up the slack left by Ms. Arnott’s absences. Important issues affecting the City will not wait for Ms. Arnott’s return. Issues such as the arbitration about funding the regional sewer system or negotiations about the liquid waste management plan must move ahead. Preparations for next years’ financial plan need to start. Consideration of development proposals has to be done so that developers’ projects are not unduly delayed.
All these things seem to be happening without Ms. Arnott’s presence. Perhaps it’s an indication that the City doesn’t really need the services of an individual being paid a salary of $157,000 per year (plus benefits). At this point in time, the City is certainly not getting its money’s worth. I suggest that Council give serious consideration to the elimination of an apparently unnecessary management position and use the money saved to upgrade some of our obviously deteriorating infrastructure.
Laurie Charlton is a retired chemist who was a Rossland city councillor for 17 years between 1975 and 2011.