Editorial: more transparency needed on CAO file

By: Korie Marshall, Editor

I apparently stunned some people in the June 10th editorial by suggesting that either the mayor or the CAO of Valemount could leave if they couldn’t work together. But I don’t think that suggestion should be such a surprise. In a democratic government it is not sacrilege or treason to talk about or consider removing an elected person from power, and I think any real democracy has to have a process to do so. But of course it shouldn’t be done lightly.

I have spoken with a number of people who took exception to the idea of creating a petition to have a person – a member of our community, in this case our CAO Anne Yanciw – removed from her job. Part of that comes from a very emotional place, a need and desire to be respectful of our neighbours (and we’re all neighbours in a small community). But I do understand the point of view of people who think that one person is standing in the way of good things for this community, and feel they need to band together to make things happen. I just wish they would be more forthcoming about their reasons.

Let me be clear – I value the work that Mayor Jeannette Townsend has done in the past. She has been involved in some incredibly important projects, like getting Valemount involved in the Columbia Basin Trust, getting streets paved, the downtown revitalization project (which whether you like it or not has been an immense value to the community in making it look alive and welcoming).

I think Mayor Townsend can still do a lot more great things for this community, but getting rid of our CAO will not be one of them. She ran on a platform of fiscal prudence and doing what is “best” for this community, but I’ve always found it frustrating that she never elaborates on what she thinks is best. “Best” can be very subjective. She never said anything publicly about getting rid of our CAO during her campaign, and the org review has proven that the village is well run, so there are no big financial savings to be had there. If there were behind-the-scenes pressure or private promises, they need to be brought into the open or dropped for this community to move forward. Things are happening now that need to be dealt with, and they are not the same kinds of things that happened 20 years ago.

A big problem is that we don’t know what our Council is doing on the matter with the CAO, because they are choosing to keep it behind closed doors. There have been a series of closed meetings including a special meeting on June 28th to discuss labour relations or other employee relations. I think it’s a safe guess it has to do with Council’s decision on Yanciw (without cause). But it doesn’t have to be closed meetings. The old terminology of “land, legal, labour” is still often used to think about what happens in closed meetings. But BC’s Community Charter lists a number of things that MAY be addressed in a closed meeting, and only a few things that MUST be. Labour and employee relations MAY be addressed in a closed meeting, which means that Council and staff can choose to discuss it in an open meeting if they want. The claim is often made that a closed meeting protects the employees, but I think in many cases it is only protecting Council. The consultant who performed the org review suggested Valemount follow the example of Canmore’s contract with its CAO, which lays everything out plainly in public view.

It may technically be simple to advertise for and hire a new CAO but releasing someone without cause means paying them severance, which is a cost that some people may be forgetting.

It is obvious that Mayor Townsend wants to get rid of Yanciw, but it’s equally obvious that she doesn’t have the support of her Council, otherwise Yanciw would already be gone. And if Townsend cannot listen to the majority of her Council (and remember, we elected the rest of Council as well), then she is no longer leading a democracy. If she cannot recognize the value of her staff, and learn to work with her staff instead of arguing with both them and Council, then I do think she’s no longer fit to lead the community.

Townsend may have contacts but the political world of helping your friends is ending – because it is not democratic. Things are changing. Those who have been making the rules and bending them when they want to are now feeling the pressure to stick to the rules.

Townsend has the support of some of the community, and she has done a lot of good things in the past, but it’s not about the past right now. We need someone who can move forward and deal with the things that are facing this community. The old way of private dinners with “important” people and not telling the community what you are doing is not going to cut it. We are eventually going to know what Council decides in regards to the CAO, so I think it would benefit the entire community if staff and council decide to take the discussion out of a closed meeting now. That would at least show me that Mayor Townsend is willing to move forward for the sake of the majority, not just a few.

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