Saanich Council launches search for new CAO

Saanich's hiring process for CAO clarified by council as search for next CAO begins

Saanich’s search for a new Chief Administrative Officer is about to start and, perhaps not surprisingly, it comes with an added layer of controversy.

The announcement to replace current CAO Andy Laidlaw, whose interim contract ends in August, came from Saanich Mayor and Council in a press release late on Tuesday afternoon (July 14) and contained two peculiarities: a paragraph disclosing that Saanich Council was aware Laidlaw faced a conflict of interest when he left his previous appointment in Campbell River in January, and was subsequently hired by Saanich, and that the contact for the press release is acting mayor (and long time) Coun. Susan Brice.

Mayor Richard Atwell confirmed his abstinence on the matter in a statement, because of his comments in a July Focus Magazine article regarding Laidlaw’s conflict of interest in Campbell River and the conduct of Saanich staff. He also said Brice currently has the right to speak as acting mayor based on a pre-determined schedule decided on Dec. 1.

Brice said that while there wasn’t a lot of media coverage on the departure of Laidlaw from Campbell River (besides Focus Magazine), council felt the need to address concerns about their procedure at his hiring.

“We wanted to be totally transparent about how the appointment of our current CAO (Laidlaw) was done,” Brice said.

“We’ve been very, very pleased with the service of (Laidlaw), and any of the issues related to his appointment in Campbell River we were aware of. That occurrence was not considered a (holdback) from hiring Mr. Laidlaw, and we’re pleased that we did.”

For the recruitment process, Saanich has retained the Toronto arm of international executive hiring firm Boyden.

“This is a kind of progress report for the public before we moved forward to find a permanent replacement for the position,” Brice said.

In the mean time, despite Saanich carrying an interim CAO, Brice said no interested applicants had contacted her. If someone did they’d have been referred to Boyden.

Saanich, however, went in-house to hire CAO Laidlaw, foregoing the “routine” use of an executive hiring agency such as Boyden as it was for an interim.

“We (otherwise) followed the same procedures for the interim,” Brice said.

Former CAO Paul Murray, who was terminated with a $476,000 severance package in December immediately following the Nov. 15 election of current Council and Mayor in December, was hired in-house but did go through the process of an executive hiring firm. Murray was Saanich’s director of finance at that time.

Brice said it will likely take three to four months to find the right person and that the search will go on until the right person is found.

The CAO is the only municipal employee hired directly by Council.