Earlier this week the Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers (SSMAR) issued a press release publicly calling for a postponement of the recruitment process underway for the position of Chief Administrative Officer with the City of Sault Ste. Marie. Earlier this year current CAO, Joe Fratesi, announced his retirement from the position effective April 30th, 2015. The full press release from SSMAR can be read at the end of this article.
In an interview with the Northern Hoot SSMAR organizer, Dave Poluck, opined the issue of public inclusion. Specifically, that the community ought to have an opportunity to raise the question ‘what of the need of a CAO for the City?’ Further to that point, Poluck, while commending the Council’s recent decision to increase the recruitment committee by two, postulates that the hiring policy for the position of CAO and senior City staff ought to be open for community review and input.
“We’re asking the Mayor and Council to suspend the hiring policy for the CAO position. The biggest problem with the policy is that they keep saying ‘open and accountable’. But open and accountable means inclusion. There’s no inclusion in this policy at all. Nobody has asked the community what they want. Do we or don’t we need the CAO position? The CAO position is over $200, 000. If we look at a place, like Sarnia, that’s similar in size and is a border town- well, they don’t have a CAO. Shouldn’t we be finding out what it is that Sarnia is doing? Also, the Mayor could be responsible for overseeing the duties of the current CAO. Instead of the huge expense of a CAO the Mayor could hire one or two staff to assist him which would be a significant decrease of taxes being directed to the salary of a CAO.”
Sarnia’s website indicates that a City Manager reports directly to Sarnia City Council and is responsible for overseeing the administrative operations of the City. There are seven department heads that report to the City Manager. The City Manager for Sarnia was unavailable for comment.
However, Sault Ste. Marie’s CAO, Joe Fratesi, was available for comment as was the City Mayor, Christian Provenzano, and City Councillor, Steve Butland. Below are their thoughts on the issue.
Joe Fratesi: CAO, City of Sault Ste. Marie
“The Sault absolutely needs a CAO. Other municipalities might call it City Manager or City Administrator- they’re all one in the same. If you’re going to have a team you need a quarterback. You need a captain of the team- you need a CAO or City Manager or whatever you want to call it. There is absolutely no way that you can divvy up the responsibility without having someone who is directly responsible to Council to make sure that whatever they decide gets done. As soon as you start watering it down – we have nine departments, nine people being directly responsible to people- you start losing that direct accountability and effectiveness.
CAO responsibilities couldn’t be delegated to the Mayor. The CEO in any other circumstance, save and except for the municipal organization, is defined by corporate law and has broad duties and broad rights. However, the CEO, in the context of the Municipal Act, is a very narrowly defined responsibility. At the end of the day there is a very clear line between the duty to govern- which is the elected’s responsibility, and the duty to carry out- which is the administrative responsibility. Once they start blurring- I think there is no end to confusion and maybe even fighting. Council holds me responsible. They don’t get into the weeds regarding staffing issues or how staff gets things done. I think Council will very quickly come to the conclusion that they’ll need someone at the helm of the administrative end. I think Council understands that they need to clearly delineate the responsibility.”
Steve Butland: City Councillor, City of Sault Ste. Marie
“There is absolutely no way that you can do without a CAO position. The whole concept of a not having a CAO is non-practical. It borders on non-sensible. That’s how strong I feel about this. It makes no sense at all. Can you think of another corporation that has a 200 million dollar budget that doesn’t have somebody in control of daily operations? I don’t think so. Having sat in the Mayor’s chair, and certainly being involved with the CAO over the years and being aware of what goes on elsewhere in the province- there is the political arena –the politicians, mayor and Council set policy. They do not and should not involve themselves in the daily operations of the Corporation. Nor should the CAO be involved in policy making for the Corporation. Policy making is up to the politicians.
The Mayor position in Sault Ste. Marie is a full time job. To say that the Mayor is not only responsible for the political side of things and setting policy but as well the Mayor is now also responsible for the daily operations- like snow plowing, and ditching, and recreation- and all the myriad of things that comes with the daily operation simply makes no sense whatsoever. Some people may say that there is a certain amount of money to be saved but they say so without valuating any of the consequences by doing so. The recruitment process is moving along. Mr. Fratesi is leaving in April. The business of the Corporation doesn’t stop.”
Christian Provenzano: Mayor, City of Sault Ste. Marie
“It is very uncommon to find a municipality, never mind of our size but much smaller than ours, that functions without a CAO. It’s important that the division exists between the administrative and the political. My sense of things is that the role is necessary. I would have to be convinced that it isn’t. I’m not at all comfortable coming in here and consolidating more authority and responsibility in my office. And I would think the most appropriate way to do that would be to propose it to the public, run on it in the campaign and then if you’re successful- implement those changes.
I think if Mr. Poluck isn’t suggesting that this process is open, transparent or representative I would disagree with him. We had a full discussion about it in Council. The entire community was able to follow that conversation –that’s transparency. As well the question of inclusion has been proposed by Councillor Krmpotich. Councillor Krmpotich specifically posed that question and also asked for a report from Human Resources as to the necessity of the role of CAO. Council will receive a report on that. It’s also worth noting that we’re elected by the general public. So you have elected people that represent the public in making these decisions. We are inclusive of the general public. There are members on this Committee who represent wards and represent a certain population in the City. I represent the entire City. We’re going to be making decisions.”
Issued: January 12, 2015
From: Sault Ste. Marie Association of Ratepayers
It was recently announced that Sault Ste. Marie’s Chief Administrative Officer will retire from the position on April 30th, 2015. The Association of Ratepayers commends the Mayor and those councilors who voted in favour of last Monday’s resolution to obtain a report on the viability of the CAO position and amending Policy #1-9, which outlines the hiring of senior staff, by increasing the size of the hiring committee from three to five. These are positive steps and we encourage council to go further.
In the years since the last hiring for this position there have been both political and economic changes that have made an impact on our city. Reality is that our environment today is vastly different. There was great controversy, which has carried forward to this day, over how the CAO position was last filled with a substantial sector of the public still expressing dissatisfaction with the process and procedures of nineteen years ago.
It is a common occurrence that organizational reviews are made in corporations in order to improve. Opportunity is knocking and now is the time to conduct a thorough review of Policy #1-9. It is vital for us as a community to explore our options and aggressively seek improvements.
As an example, Council is following 1-9 and continuing on with the policy to hire a consultant.
The common response from ratepayers asked was “Why?” “When taxpayers are available, viable and qualified as consultants and at no financial cost to the city”
Policy # 1-9 lays out the hiring process for senior staff, but unfortunately all but excludes public input. As currently written this procedure is fundamentally flawed and that needs to be addressed.
As it stands Policy# 1-9
1) Minimizes public input.
2) Encourages the use and expense of outside consultants.
3) Calls for a selection committee consisting of two Councilors and the Mayor (this has already been addressed by council resolution).
4) Seeks the establishment of criteria for the position as a task to be accomplished.
5) States the position will be finalized through “Appointment by By-law” rather than through offer of contract.
It is the position of SSMAR organizers that in order to ensure open, honest, accountable and transparent municipal governance we should be looking at every avenue and seeks every opportunity to make improvements. It is not inconceivable in this day and age that public input should be sought on filling any senior staff position, such as that of the CAO.
Open and accountable requires inclusion.
It is our request to Mayor Provenzano and council that Policy# 1-9 and current process be placed on hold until a full review and resolution to issues raised, have been addressed and amended.
Organizers of the Association of Ratepayers are currently making arrangements to host a general public gathering and conduct community survey to solicit community input in order to gather information for the consideration of council and invite all ratepayers to participate.