CAO hiring facing ‘contamination’

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Council meeting gets testy as CFI invited to speak

INNISFAIL – The ongoing war of words between town council and Citizens for Innisfail (CFI) is “contaminating” the search for Innisfail’s new chief administrative officer, council was told last week.

“In my mind you guys (CFI) in the paper every week are contaminating our search,” said Coun. Heather Taylor during an emotional and often testy regular council meeting on April 10. “Who in their right mind wouldn’t look up the paper and see what is going on, and who would want to come? You’re contaminating the search.”

Mary Flemming, a spokesperson for CFI who made a presentation to council last week, said her group has kept its focus to one issue — the fair treatment of town staff. She suggested in an interview after the meeting the town will not have major problems finding a new CAO to replace Helen Dietz, who is retiring on July 1.

“The CAO position is one that pays well. We are in an era of unemployment. There are people out there who will be up for the challenge,” said Flemming, who pointedly told council her group was not attacking council’s performance on fiscal issues nor its integrity. “If you really analyze everything we’ve said in the paper we are not just willy-nilly tearing this council down about everything.

“Our entire goal has been in relation to staff relationships,” she said. “That is the perception that has been around town for the longest time and that is why we formed. We are not criticizing your integrity.”

Flemming’s 10-member CFI group was invited by Mayor Brian Spiller on March 23 to make an unrestricted presentation, as long as it fell under the town’s responsibility. The invitation came following council’s earlier decision to deny CFI a hearing after receiving an explosive March 14 letter that alleged plans were in the works by Dietz to let go “several” staff members.

“When I read that (March 14 letter) you guys went from hero to zero in my book,” said Coun. Mark Kemball, adding CFI had made “good points” in the past but the letter unfairly questioned his integrity. “It’s like you guys want to do some grandstanding, and really you know, I don’t have time for that.”

During her council presentation Flemming noted the “vague” way the town was presenting and practising its workplace harassment and anti-violence policies. She also said CFI noticed the absence of two important positions within the town’s organizational chart – a professional economic development officer and a human resources administrator.

As for the “vague” policies comment, Spiller countered there is a municipal election in October and CFI members have the choice to participate in a campaign to have policies changed.

“Get on council and straighten out our policies. We are not here to take advice from you on what we have to do on policies. We work on our policies,” said Spiller, adding complaints from CFI over staff policies have not forced the town to consider changes to its harassment policy. “We’ve had no complaints from our staff on the policies.”

But many council members said on April 10 they were particularly offended with the term “contaminated” that was partly included in one sentence in the March 14 CFI letter. That sentence specifically recommended a new CAO candidate “should be unbiased, and uncontaminated by the present administration, and the problematic issues that have shadowed it.”

But Spiller told Flemming and other CFI members in attendance the term “contamination” was “very insulting” to town council and current staff members.

“We don’t have a contamination here. As far as we figure, that is all in your brain,” said the mayor. “We have a very well-run town with an excellent CAO that we are sad to see leave. There is no contamination.”

However, other members of council zeroed in on the possible harm the seven-month-old public battle with CFI could have in finding a new administrative leader to replace Dietz.

“You talk about contaminating the pool. If I don’t hear daily I hear weekly who in their right mind would want the job,” said Coun. Patt Churchill. “If you want decent people to stand here, people who are courageous, who are not going to be led by three or four, or 10 or 20, but they will do what is best for 8,000 people in this town.”

Coun. Gavin Bates said he has been in contact with The Ravenhill Group, the company retained by the town to find a list of suitable CAO candidates. He claimed he was told the town was “probably cutting down” the field of new CAO candidates due to the negative image that was being projected on Innisfail.

“(Candidates) might have no desire to move to Innisfail and run the risk of dealing with what appears to be a mess,” Bates told council.

In the meantime, Flemming said after the meeting there is no change in the resolve of CFI to force staff policy change at town hall. She noted CFI is hosting its first public meeting at 7 p.m. on April 28 at the Innisfail Royal Canadian Legion.

Mary Flemming, spokesperson for Citizens for Innisfail

“Our entire goal has been in relation to staff relationships. “That is the perception that has been around town for the longest time and that is why we formed. We are not criticizing your integrity.”

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Johnnie Bachusky

Johnnie Bachusky joined the Innisfail Province as editor in 2013. He covers Innisfail and Red Deer County news, police, crime and municipal politics. He is also a photographer and columnist.