Town takes first step toward CAO search

A new committee has been formed to assist the Town of Niagara-on-the-Lake in a crucial task — hiring its next chief administrative officer.

Late last year, town head administrator Marnie Cluckie announced she was departing to take on a role as city manager in Hamilton.

This led to the town appointing Bruce Zvaniga on an interim basis, starting in the new year. The town previously said he would not be seeking the role permanently and that the process to replace him could take about six months.

At last week’s committee-of-the-whole general meeting, council approved the process that will unfold moving ahead, and also formed a committee of three councillors and Lord Mayor Gary Zalepa, tasked with interviewing and reviewing candidates who apply for the position.

After five councillors were nominated, local politicians took a vote and selected three individuals who will serve on the committee with Zalepa.

Couns. Maria Mavridis, Erwin Wiens and Sandra O’Connor were chosen.

The CAO position is the only staff role hired and fired by councils.

Before council took a vote, O’Connor asked why an odd number of committee members wasn’t being recommended, and suggested adding a fourth councillor.

Zvaniga said it’s the town’s intention to ensure the committee is “relatively small to be effective.”

Attendance is also mandatory at meetings where evaluation of candidates takes place, says the terms of reference contained in the report approved by councillors.

“It’s really critical when you get into interviews that everyone who is on the committee attend each of those interviews,” said Zvaniga, adding that O’Connor’s concerns about an even number of individuals potentially resulting in a tie vote won’t affect the process, as it will be a decision of council to select the top staffer, not the committee.

O’Connor also asked if the top three candidates could be presented with a ranking system, listing them as the committee’s opinion of the first, second and third-best choices.

“That would be completely appropriate,” said Zvaniga.

The town will work with an external executive search firm in the process to assist the committee, as well as the interim CAO and manager of human resources, who will determine the scope of work undertaken by the search firm.

The firm is expected to develop the key “character traits and competencies required” in consultation with the committee, staff said in the report presented to councillors.

The committee will comply with all open meeting provisions, including providing public meeting notice, recording minutes, passing a resolution before closing a meeting and restricting the discussion during the closed meeting to matters that fit within the exceptions, said the staff report, and also that a meeting will be closed to the public if the subject of the discussion fits into criteria dictated by the Municipal Act related to personal matters and an identifiable individual.

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