Town chooses firm for CAO recruitment process

Niagara-on-the-Lake's chief administrative officer recruitment committee has selected the firm it will use to move forward with hiring the town’s next head staffer.

In its third meeting since being struck, the committee received a presentation and provided some suggestions to The Phelps Group, who will be leading the process to find an individual to permanently fill the position.

The Phelps Group has been operating for 38 years and has recently played a part in finding CAOs for municipalities such as Peterborough and Thunder Bay, partner Jayson Phelps told the committee on Monday morning.

He was joined by managing partner Heather Phelps and Fareed Amin, practice lead on diversity and inclusion – a former deputy minister for several provincial ministries and previous deputy city manager of the City of Toronto and CAO of the Town of Collingwood.

Phelps laid out a six-stage process beginning with planning and consultation and concluding with negotiating a contract with a successful candidate and transitioning them into the role.

Steps in between these parts of the plan include candidate outreach, forming a “long list” of candidates, as well as panel interviews.

On the committee are Couns. Sandra O’Connor, Erwin Wiens, Maria Mavridis, and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa.

O’Connor asked if the committee would have a voice in trimming down a long list of candidates once it’s presented, to which Phelps said it would.

“Every step of trimming down from that point forward is the selection committee’s process,” he said.

It was also agreed that the firm will conduct one-on-one interviews with senior leadership at the town to discuss what current interim CAO Bruce Zvaniga described as “challenges they see within the organization.”

The possibility of going outside the corporation, the town, to receive feedback from a very small number of people in the community who work closely with the local government was shot down quickly by the committee.

O’Connor said feedback may end up being received by someone with a “personal slant,” and could be problematic.

“We could get backlash from that,” said O’Connor, adding this may result in hard feelings from someone who believes they should have been consulted with.

Zalepa agreed with O’Connor.

“I’m not sure I like that concept,” he said.

Amin said this is a “legitimate concern” and continued that this is an option some municipalities have taken – but not all of them their firm has worked with.

Mavridis offered a similar opinion.

“I’d like to keep it within the team,” she said, noting that concerns from key players in the community will already be known by the senior staff who share ideas.

Zalepa said the town is looking for someone “to take a good assessment of the assets we have in place now” and “build the map to get council to where it wants to go.”

O’Connor said someone with “really good diplomacy skills and tact” would be ideal, someone who is a “good consensus builder.”

And the ever-changing relationship between municipalities and upper levels of government is something she hopes the successful candidate can work with.

“No matter what’s happening, the environment is always changing,” said O’Connor.

While NOTL has a population of less than 20,000 residents, Zalepa said it is a “sophisticated” place with a lot of ongoing work related to planning and tourism, which he hopes the new CAO will find important.

Sarah Stevens, the town’s human resources manager and a staff member who is part of the recruitment process, echoed Zalepa’s comments about NOTL being a small town – saying that it is a “very, very busy municipality with a lot of things going on.” which is something some applicants may not realize.

The posting is expected to be advertised in the coming weeks through media outlets and social media, said Heather Phelps.

Jayson Phelps said his team will “regroup” with the committee in the near future after the feedback received Monday.

In January, the CAO role was taken on temporarily by Bruce Zvaniga following the resignation of former CAO Marnie Cluckie, who departed to take a top position with the City of Hamilton.

The hiring process was previously estimated to take about six months.

Kris Dube, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Niagara-on-the-Lake Local