Halifax auditor general raises concerns about how municipality hires staff

Andrew Atherton is auditor general for the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). (CBC - image credit)
Andrew Atherton is auditor general for the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM). (CBC - image credit)

A new report from Halifax's auditor general concludes there are gaps and inconsistencies in the municipality's hiring practices that put the city at a high risk of bias.

Andrew Atherton, auditor general for the Halifax Regional Municipality (HRM), presented his report on hiring to the audit and finance standing committee Wednesday.

"The audit results are not good. A lot of issues, a lot of concerns," Atherton told councillors.

His office examined the policies human resources staff are supposed to follow — as well as 40 jobs filled through competition and 10 by appointment — from April 1, 2020, to March 31, 2023.

Atherton said they had concerns with all of these cases, with four of the 40 competition jobs having "significant issues." These included non-union managers hired without meeting the minimum qualifications for the position and an internal competition for a senior management role when no documented assessments of the two candidates were done.

"The [chief administrative officer] at the time directed human resources to hire one of the candidates without an interview or further assessment," the report said.

Halifax City Hall is seen in this file photo
Halifax City Hall is seen in this file photo

A new report has flagged multiple concerns with hiring practices at Halifax Regional Municipality. (Robert Short/CBC)

Although Atherton said the hiring manager has the final discretion to select the person they feel is best for the role, the reasons for those decisions should be clearly documented in the files — but were not.

"The resulting risks to the organization of biased hiring decisions is pretty high as a result of that," Atherton said during the meeting.

In the 10 cases where people were appointed, the AG's team found no evidence about the candidates' qualifications for the position. In five of those cases, there was also no evidence supporting the need for an appointment instead of an open competition.

Atherton noted the audit did not examine how new employees were performing, just the hiring process itself.

"They could be doing an amazing job right now," he said.

Nearly 20 staff without mandatory diversity training

Of the 25 hiring managers sampled, six hadn't taken hiring manager certification training, and 18 hadn't taken diversity and inclusion training; both of which are mandatory.

"To me, that's really, really disappointing," said Coun. Pam Lovelace.

Municipal staff accepted the seventeen recommendations from the report to improve policies, record keeping, and close gaps.

Deputy Mayor Cathy Deagle Gammon asked municipal staff to return to the committee within six months with an action plan to meet the recommendations.

Human resources executive director Britt Wilson said the department will meet that deadline and has already started tracking when people are missing training.

Department says more staff might be needed 

"I firmly believe that the HR professionals involved in this were working to promote fair hiring and to address, you know, hiring in the fairest possible manner," Wilson said in an interview.

"Unfortunately, as indicated by the auditor general, the documentation and the process-validation component was maybe not always adhered to … that's something we want to address."

Wilson said the department is having staffing issues and may need more people to complete all the recommendations in time.