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For the second time in less than a year, the Town of Stewiacke has had a potential chief administrative officer leave the job before the six-month probationary period concluded.
“All I want for Christmas is a new CAO,” Mayor Wendy Robinson said Wednesday.
Douglas Bak informed council of the southern Colchester County town of about 1,400 several weeks ago that he was leaving.
“Council was really pleased with his work,” Robinson said. “In November, we decided that if he wanted to accept the position we’d be happy to have him. He had expressed all along the odd frustration but that is to be expected. Before the six months was up, he took a good hard look at the job and he decided that he had another opportunity that he didn’t want to pass up.”
Bak had taken over from interim or acting CAO Grant Cook. Cook had stepped in when Anne MacDonnell left the job in February, four months into her probationary period, in what Robinson called a mutual agreement that MacDonnell wasn’t a good fit.
“It’s at-will employment,” MacDonnell said Wednesday of a probationary position. “You can leave or be let go without any notice.”
MacDonnell replaced Sheldon Dorey, who had held the CAO job for 17 years. Dorey resigned in September 2017 to accept a similar role in Baker Lake, Nunavut.
Still, MacDonnell thinks the recent turnover might not be good for the town.
“It doesn’t really look good,” MacDonnell said. “I was gone after three months. They had him (Bak) for not much longer than me. I am a little bit concerned for the residents. They deserve steady administrative leadership with strength in governance and transparency. Given the turnover in the CAO role, there is a risk that the town will experience difficulty in attracting and retaining solid candidates. That’s a conclusion that anyone would draw.”
Robinson said Randi Buchi, the town’s finance manager for the past three months, will take over as acting CAO.
“We have a little bit of breathing space,” Robinson said. “The frustrations for us is that we really liked him (Bak) and thought he was doing a fantastic job. It’s not a frustration, it’s a disappointment. He did some fantastic work in the almost six months since he was there. He certainly moved the town procedures and updated a lot of things that needed to be. We are thrilled with the work he did for us.”
Council will hold a special meeting Thursday evening and will discuss a personnel matter in camera.
During a July meeting, it was moved that council approve that the CAO enter into negotiations to purchase a property at 46 Main Street East, the St. Andrew’s Church property, including an offer to purchase. MacDonnell said that property purchase would be intended as a site for a proposed civic centre, although a price had not been revealed and residents weren’t kept up to speed about the decision.
“That’s concerning,” MacDonnell said. “That’s a lack of transparency. That suggests to me that there is limited respect for the governance process.
“The report should have been debated in a public meeting, the pros and cons of one location versus another. There wasn’t enough stakeholder engagement. They made the decision without making the circumstances available to citizens of the town. That’s not good representation.”
MacDonnell said that sort of governing could influence a prospective employee’s decision about the job.
Robinson said, “Bak decided that being a CAO was not something he really wanted to do.”
“It’s better that you know within the first six months because then things become more difficult after the six-month probation period,” she said.
“We are just sorting out where we are and what we need to do.”