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Petition calls for removal of Town of Fort Macleod CAO; council stands behind Connauton

A petition has been started to get public support for the removal of Town of Fort Macleod chief administrative officer David Connauton.
Karen Friesen started the petition last week in response to concerns in town about spending, discord among council members and slow development processes.
“I would like to see Fort Macleod grow and prosper,” Friesen said of her desired outcome from the petition. “I would like to see people participate more, people be more accountable in their positions in the town administrative office.”
Council was blindsided last week by the news the petition had been started.
“I was actually very surprised because the way I found out was a call from the media,” Deputy Mayor Trish Hoskin said. “Council really values due process and we value community building. We make ourselves available to the community so that if issues come up, we want to be the first to know.”
Hoskin would have preferred that Friesen bring the concerns first to council, before proceeding with a petition, which she said contains misinformation.
“I am disappointed,” Hoskin said. “I really believe in community-building and solutions-based decision making and creating win-wins for everyone as much as possible. I’m not convinced that a petition with misinformation does good for the community.”
Friesen said with council elected to a four-year term, she saw the petition to remove the CAO as the only way to bring about change.
“It’s not negative,” Friesen said of the petition’s intent. “It may be feedback, but what is feedback? Feedback is to promote positive change. It might be negative to your ears, you might hear something you didn’t want to hear, but that’s not its goal. Its goal is to be positive.”
Friesen said the petition is about financial accountability and job performance.
“That’s not negative,” Friesen said. “I kind of take offence when someone says this is negative, because it’s not. I think Fort Macleod had great potential.”
The petition lays the blame for a list of Fort Macleod’s ills at the feet of the town’s chief administrative officer.
Council, however, supports Connauton.
“We stand behind David,” Hoskin said, adding work is ongoing to improve processes in town. “As far as David goes he is our only employee. If people have concerns they can bring them to us so we can find out information and address them with David.”
Hoskin stressed that Connauton has not made the financial decisions as described in the petition, and that it is council’s responsibility.
“David is our employee and he takes direction from council,” Hoskin said. “He doesn’t make financial decisions.”
The petition charges that Connauton received a raise in salary to $111,000 per year, from $92,000.
Hoskin confirmed council approved the raise.
The petition also points out the Town of Fort Macleod spent $42,000 to hire a management consultant to do the first phase of an organizational review.
The second phase is to cost an additional $62,000, the petition states, for work that should have been done by the CAO.
Hoskin pointed out the organizational review, which will actually cost about $90,000, is being paid by a provincial Municipal Sustainability Initiative grant at no cost to the Town of Fort Macleod.
The petition also claims that within the first four months of the October 2013 election the CAO hired an economic development manager and human resources manager/assistant CAO at salaries of more than $70,000 a year.
In fact, the human resources manager/assistant CAO position was actually hired in June 2013 during the term of the previous town council.
The economic development manager’s position had been vacant for a year following the resignation in March 2013 of Martin Ebel. The hiring process began prior to the election in October 2013.
“We heard loud and clear the community wants an (economic development manager), and we are very pleased with our EDM,” Hoskin said. “We heard loud and clear from the community there was a gap there.”
The petition states that Connauton recommended upgrading the W.A. Day school gym at a cost of $637,000 to be paid by taxpayers, with $250,000 to be repaid by the Fort Macleod Initiatives Group.
“Council approved the project,” Hoskin said. “We’re taking out a debenture, we’re looking at different ways to fund it.”
Hoskin said a strong case was made by members of the community for the enlarged gym to benefit families and generate economic development by hosting tournaments and other events.
The petition states Connauton hired a second community peace officer on a temporary basis for $40,000, and that expenses for this department top revenue by more than $80,000.
“Any hiring decisions come from council,” Hoskin said. “A case was made that there was a lot of administrative work that had to be done to get caught up.”
Hoskin said it was impossible for a single community peace officer to get all the work done as directed by council, so the decision was made by council to create a temporary position to get the work caught up.
The petition also states that Connauton is considering hiring three general managers for public works, each with a salary of about $120,000.
Hoskin pointed out the recommendation for creating three positions came out of the organizational review done by Gordon Harris of Western Management Consultants.
The review recommends creating the position of operations manager to look after the departments of water, waste water, electric, road, planning and development and possibly parks.
The review also recommended naming a community services manager responsible for overseeing FCSS, recreation, fire, library, RCMP and possibly parks.
The review also recommends naming a corporate services manager to oversee the finance, communications, human resources and economic development departments.
“Those are only recommendations,” Hoskin said. “We’re just taking them for information.”
Hoskin is convinced Fort Macleod is moving forward, with numerous positive projects under way.
Hoskin also wants people to know that council is ready at any time to discuss concerns about the town.
“I just really want to hit home that we’re neighbours and that respectful conversations and relationships are what is going to move us forward and get us through any challenges,” Hoskin said. “I do really encourage the community to ask the right people the right questions, and get the right information.”
Friesen said the goal is to have at least 10 per cent of the population of Fort Macleod in a 60-day period. The petition would then be presented to council.
“The petition is going very well,” said Friesen, noting it is available at her business, Brok’N Spoke Bike Shoppe, as well as other businesses. “We’re up over 150 names already and it’s only been one week.”

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