A discussion over the extension of the town’s chief administrative officer erupted into a skirmish between Collingwood’s mayor and deputy mayor.
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Mayor Sandra Cooper and Deputy Mayor Brian Saunderson faced off Monday night over Saunderson’s motion – introduced two weeks ago as a notice of motion – to extend John Brown’s contract by a year.
Council voted 5-4 to keep Brown on for another year with Saunderson, councillors Deb Doherty, Kathy Jeffery, Cam Ecclestone and Bob Madigan voting in favour, while Cooper, and councillors Tim Fryer, Mike Edwards and Kevin Lloyd voted against the extension.
Brown’s contract was set to expire this September and $70,000 had been put in this year’s budget to look for a new CAO.
“Our obligation around this table is to do what is in the best interest of this community and I believe in the term of this council, we have done that,” said the deputy mayor.
Saunderson felt the right decision was to discuss the issue in a public forum.
“We are doing our business where you can all see it,” he said.
However, Cooper accused Saunderson of circumventing her office, stating the issue should have been discussed in-camera before being brought to the public.
Cooper read a prepared statement and took several shots at Saunderson and other members of council.
“People who know me would suggest that I am a consensus builder and try whenever possible to avoid creating a caustic environment, sometimes at a fault,” she said. “This longstanding approach creates an atmosphere where some individuals feel they can aggressively push me aside or not engage my office with the opinion that there will be little consequence.
“In spite of my efforts to engage the deputy mayor and members of council, a few – including the deputy mayor – continue to make their way through issues without providing the level of respect and engagement the mayor’s office requires.”
Saunderson attempted to call Cooper on a point of privilege but was denied.
“You are impugning my integrity, I brought this notice of motion in public at the last meeting and if you can point me to one aspect of the procedural bylaw that somehow I might have fallen aside or a stray of, I’d like you to point it out,” Saunderson said before he was cut off by the mayor. “Other than that I’d like you to either retract your comments or apologize.”
Cooper apologized, sort of.
“I will leave those the comments then,” she said. “I apologize that you feel that way about the mayor’s office and the comments that I’ve made. I will just leave those statements and continue on.”
Cooper believed the issue should have been discussed in-camera with all members of council.
“We have chosen a different path that is divisive and shows a complete, in my view, disrespect for the mayor’s office,” she said. “When treating the mayor’s office (this way), it’s disrespectful to the will of the electorate. Hopefully, once a decision is made, we will put this matter behind us and enter into a new era of cooperation and respect.”
However, Saunderson wanted a rebuttal but was shut down by Cooper who pounded the gavel and said, “Deputy mayor, you do not have the floor.”
“This is going under objection,” he said. “I have made a point of privilege that you refuse to rule on. You went ahead and accused myself and other members of this council of disrespect with process.”
While Saunderson was speaking, Cooper said, “as I am right now.”
She then abruptly called for a 30-minute recess.
After they re-convened, Cooper and Saunderson appeared to resolve the issue.
“I accept your apology with respect to the point of personal privilege,” he said. “It was not my intention to disrespect my office of the mayor. I look forward to moving ahead as a council. We may have strong opinions about different issues but that’s part of the job.”
Councillor Mike Edwards wanted the town to move forward with a “permanent” CAO.
“I think it’s time that council appointed a full-time CAO and not one on contract that seems to continue and continue and paying a premium rate,” he said.
Concerns were raised about Brown’s compensation, which totals $225,000, with $192,000 in base pay and a $33,000 payment in lieu of a contribution to his pension.
“John Brown is our permanent CAO, whether or not it’s as a staff member or as a contract employee,” Saunderson said. “He is getting paid what he deserves and he’s getting paid to do the job that he does.”
Both Saunderson and Edwards outlined the salaries paid to CAO’s by other municipalities including Innisfil ($192,000), New Tecumseth ($194,000), Bradford-West Gwillimbury ($193,000), Oro-Medonte ($164,000), The Blue Mountains ($161,000), Meaford ($151,000) and Orillia ($167,000).
Jeffery believes extending Brown’s contract is a good business decision.
“The CAO was hired by the previous council,” she said. “I think it was probably one of the best decisions of that four years. I think we’ve had excellent results.
“What I think what is best and a good business decision is to manage and mitigate our risk going forward by having some continuity.”