The senior politician and bureaucrat of Saanich publicly debated at great length the merits of a new bylaw directly impacting the relationship between staff and council.
Mayor Richard Atwell said the proposed revisions give council no say about staff wages and severance. The bylaw would codify the current practice that sees the chief administrative officer select and hire staff. But Atwell questioned this language.
“Council has to essentially live with your decision,” he told chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson, as council debated changes to the new Officers and Administrative Structure Bylaw. “That is the discomfort I have had with this for some time. While council isn’t directly involved in the hiring process, at the end of the day, when issues crop up, it does end up coming back to council.”
“If I may then, I can alleviate some of your concern,” said Thorkelsson. “The changes in this bylaw aren’t changing any processes that don’t exist now. It doesn’t [give] me any additional authorities in changing salaries or changing wages. Those are all controlled by council. We report to council on an annual basis for exempt salaries. Council approves those wages on an annual basis. In terms of severance, there are no exempt staff in Saanich that have contracts with specified severance agreements. The only staff member who does is myself. The rest would be governed by provincial law.”
The proposed revisions also cuts the number of statutory municipal officers to three in line with the Community Charter. Council continues to appoint those officers.
Coun. Colin Plant warned against the “slippery slope” of council getting involved with hiring decisions, a point Coun. Brownoff echoed. “I never wanted to get into looking at the building inspector position and things like that,” she said.
“Thank you for clarifying and thank you for updating.”
Council eventually read the bylaw by a vote of 7-1 with Atwell opposed.
Atwell spoke last before the actual vote, saying that he remained uncomfortable with the measure in questioning its substance and timing. “There is a lot of concern in the community about wages at this level,” he said. “There has been a lot of concern in the past from various groups [and] they have grown a lot over a number of years.”
Atwell stressed that he did not want to disparage the work of staff. “This is the largest municipality on the Island, but I do believe the municipality can still move forward in a 100 per cent positive way with council more involved in the appointment process. Ultimately, we are the ones that are held responsible for it. The residents look to us and all we can do is point the finger to somebody else.”