WINCHESTER — North Dundas Council will take a hands-off approach in the recruitment and hiring of non-senior staff — but not when it comes to the job of Facilities Manager and Recreation Coordinator.
The politicians insisted on having a hand in filling that particular position, vacated by a recent resignation, as reflected in a revised recruitment and selection policy that came back to the council table Aug. 9.
It ultimately passed, but not without considerable debate about hiring local versus external and sharing of information.
Backdrop to the testy discussion was the anticipated hiring of a new Facilities Manager and Recreation Coordinator who doesn’t currently reside in the township.
The original draft policy presented at the previous July meeting limited council’s involvement to the direct selection of Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) as well as the selection of department heads but in conjunction with the CAO in that case.
Hires for lower positions are chosen by department heads and approved by routine council resolution. But the newly approved exception to that rule is the role of Facilities Manager and Recreation Coordinator, an otherwise subordinate position to the Recreation Director.
Councillor Tony Fraser explained that he feels “in limbo” and uninformed when members of the public ask him to explain certain job hires, assuming he has a say in the matter.
“I would like not so much input, but I would like to be able to defend their level of work ethic,” said Fraser of those hires. “I’ve been approached, and I’m sure others here have been approached, and comments made … with the expectation that we have a firm answer to why this is the way it is. And being in limbo makes it tough to give a fair answer.”
Fraser added that council shouldn’t be involved “in certain hires. But we also represent the people that ask the questions…. and it makes it difficult to answer certain questions when we’re unaware of the reasons, or the things that have gone beforehand, to come to this [hiring] decision,” the councillor said.
“It makes it tough to give a fair answer sometimes.”
Mayor Eric Duncan advised that he replies to such questions with: “I didn’t hire them, council doesn’t hire them” and that he “trusts the judgment” of the internal staff hiring committee.
Using the example of a hypothetical query about a labourer on the roads department, the mayor elaborated on his response: “We have a department head and … we have individuals that go through, that take resumes of candidates, that interview candidates and review references … and they picked the person they felt was the best.”
“I feel comfortable telling a ratepayer that. I’ve done it several times.”
Duncan added that for reasons of privacy and confidentiality, a councillor can’t say why a person was hired versus another candidate anyway. “The frank reality is that even if you’re given the information, we should not be disclosing that to a ratepayer that has a concern about something and asks, ‘How did you come about hiring them?’”
Fraser said he understood the privacy concerns. “But we’re still asked the question, and we’re still expected to have some awareness of what’s happened.”
He said he’s been asked why a particular job was filled by a non-resident and didn’t know at the time that no North Dundas residents had applied.
Council does officially vote to hire individuals previously selected by staff. Under the revised policy, council members will be informed on the total number of applicants and the number that were residents of the township.
“It’s being part of the process, but at the very end,” Fraser complained, voicing frustration at feeling out of the loop. The councillor suggested he could be allowed to know more about the vetted candidates and the process without disclosing private information.
Councillor John Thompson said he wanted no direct involvement in hiring, but “one thing I would like to know is if we’re doing a hire for this position, that we had so many applications, just have numbers.”
Thompson noted that “staff know council’s expectations on hiring local,” adding, “If there’s a problem afterward, we can take it to the CAO, she can talk to the department heads, and there is a probation period with every position. I’m comfortable with that.”
“I’m comfortable with the recommendation [revised policy] too,” remarked Deputy Mayor Gerry Boyce, saying he had “full confidence in the staff that have been hired to do this.” He conceded being asked about why certain jobs weren’t filled by North Dundas residents all the time. “I don’t think necessarily that because somebody from North Dundas put an application in that they should get the job. The best applicant should get the job.”
The mayor, who does enjoy greater access to information in that capacity, suggested he may catch some flack from residents when they hear the incoming Recreation and Facilities Coordinator — yet to be announced at that point — doesn’t live in North Dundas, although that person was a resident “a couple of years ago,” he pointed out. “There was a full process that person went through and was selected. I have confidence telling people that.”
He revealed there were 40 applications for the job, half from North Dundas. But several of them had “no recreation background whatsoever. Literally nothing to do with recreation,” he said, conceding that only “one or two” from North Dundas were interviewed before the selection of the winning candidate.
“Mr. Mayor, you’re proving my point,” said Fraser. “You have all that information before the announcement is made. You’re very comfortable, you knew the process… There are times when we don’t fully understand the process.”
“The bottom line is, at some point in time, we’d like to get the information,” said Councillor Al Armstrong. “The bottom line is the sharing of information… It’s not about not trusting.”
Agreeing with Fraser, Armstrong said he wanted a comfort level when replying generally to members of the public who cast doubts about a hire. Without that information, he observed, a councillor “can’t honestly” say he has confidence in the process.
“All five of us are on the same page,” concluded Duncan.
The approved policy also supplants an older policy concerning the hiring of relatives.