A number of Nanaimo city councillors appear to be satisfied with the hiring process of an interim chief administrative officer.
In April, the city posted a job opening for an interim CAO. John Van Horne, the city’s director of human resources, said since the posting, 37 candidates applied for the position. He said council has since narrowed the list of applicants down to five, who will all eventually be interviewed by council.
“This is council’s opportunity to have a say in the one person, based on whatever experiences and traits, they are looking for,” Van Horne said.
He said he hasn’t seen the resumés or list of applicants because the initial hiring process was handled by the city’s municipal lawyer.
“This was a different process for me, but understandable to have it handled by an outside person who knows our organization well. It could have gone through a recruitment firm … but there is generally a more involved and costly process for that,” Van Horne said. “In this case, it was nice, because it kept everybody out of the process when the applications were coming in and as we go through the shortlisting process it was nice that it was handled entirely off-site.”
The chief administrative officer position is a unique position in that the candidate is hired by a vote of council and not by human resources.
“It’s traditionally seen as council’s sole employee,” Van Horne said. “All other staff, such as myself, report to the CAO and the CAO reports to council.”
Van Horne said the interim position will likely come with an annual salary in the range of $180,000 to $230,000.
He said that Tracy Samra, the city’s current chief administrative officer, is not involved in the hiring process at all.
She remains on paid leave following an incident at city hall on Jan. 31 that resulted in her arrest by the Nanaimo RCMP. Samra, who has a biweekly salary of $7,853 before taxes, is the subject of a peace bond application for allegedly making threats.
Samra was initially hired as an interim chief administrative officer in November 2015. Following her appointment to the city’s top position, Nanaimo Mayor Bill McKay along with Coun. Diane Brennan raised concerns about the hiring process for Samra. The two were censured by council for privacy breaches relating to the release of information about Samra’s hiring.
A recent audit by KPMG found that while the City of Nanaimo had “well-established hiring protocol” there were instances where the “steps in the process have been bypassed at the senior management level” and that advice from the city’s human resources department was not acted on and candidates were hired into positions “without having met all the usual screening requirements.”
Brennan said she feels the correct procedures are being followed this time around.
“I think we understand how important it is to abide by the procedure,” she said.
Coun. Gord Fuller said he believes the process for hiring an interim CAO has gone well and that the next council could eventually decide to hire a full-time CAO. He said the hiring process this time around is similar to how it was done back in 2015, which he felt was a good process.
“The process is much the same as it was last time,” he said. “We have far more candidates this time, so in that aspect it is different. In the past, we didn’t have to do interviews because the person had worked with the city.”
Coun. Jerry Hong also said he was fine with how Samra was hired and the processes used to hire her as well as the current interim hiring process. He said council’s dysfunction along with a lack of leadership has led to the current situation.
“I think what we’ve seen and the dysfunction of everything that has happened, it probably would have happened with any CAO. My personal opinion is that this would have happened no matter what because of the differences of opinion,” Hong said. “It makes it difficult and … the lack of leadership makes it even more challenging.”
McKay said while he didn’t agree with how the process was done when Samra was hired as an interim CAO, he is satisfied with the hiring process this time around and is looking forward to hiring someone.
“We need to get someone in that seat … we want to get someone working in the job, simple as that,” he said.