As of Dec. 23, the town’s latest CAO Larry Davidson was let go, just in time for Christmas. But, two councillors were opposed to the motion after a 5-2 vote at a special meeting held Dec. 22. Coun. Jack Van Rijn and Coun. Roger Hohm opposed the motion. This isn’t the first time the Town of Coaldale has gone through management and staff transitions. In 2011, former CAO Leo Ludwig’s contract with the town was terminated and the position was replaced by the then town assistant administrator Bonnie Farries. Soap operatic in nature, the drama continued as other municipal staff stepped up to the plate to fill the position including the town’s Chief Financial Officer Michelle Overbeeke and the town’s director of municipal relations Kalen Hastings. Davidson started as the town’s most recent CAO in July of 2014, after an exhaustive and extensive hiring process.
“When we decided to go after the recruitment of a new CAO — on Feb. 24, 2014 that’s when we retained Transitional Solutions out of Leduc, AB to oversee that for us. It was a long process and it was an expensive process. I think if you were to equate what the final costing for the process — for not only hiring our new CAO — plus we had them kind of do a review of the organization, as a whole, we spent in the $50,000 range. Which is an equivalent to one mil rate for the Town of Coaldale. At the end of the day we are accountable to the taxpayers within our community. When we go to this expense and to all this trouble and put our faith in a professional recruiting service, we need to look at that very seriously. When they came to us with candidates, including Larry Davidson, we reviewed and we went through a very, very stringent hiring process,” said Van Rijn.
During the interview process for a new CAO Van Rijn noted council ran an actual council meeting for each of the candidates. Each candidate, Van Rijn added, had to investigate issues and submit Requests For Decisions (RFDs) and had to come up with an agenda.
“Larry performed very well — not only during the interviewing process but all the consequential meetings thereafter. It was a bit of a learning curve for him. For him to jump into an organization the size of Coaldale, where we have depending on the time of year, we have 40-50 employees — not everybody’s going to get along in the sandbox. At the end of the day, he has to work towards building relationships and he was doing that. Unfortunately, there’s some relationships that don’t get built as quick as we would like and he has to deal with that and he’s a professional, which he was doing,” said Van Rijn.
Van Rijn admitted council, including himself, could have done a better job at giving the former CAO directives.
“We gave him some measurables that he had to do at the beginning of his employment. We could have probably done a better job following up with him to give him clear direction as to where we see Coaldale going,” he added.
Van Rijn added it’s hard at times to have seven people sitting around the council table. “Not everybody’s going to agree.”
Where the town goes from here, Van Rijn said, a new interim CAO has been appointed and the whole hiring process will begin again.
“Coaldale is well known within the province. We don’t want people that are potentially going to apply for the CAO position to come of the opinion that Coaldale is hard to do business with, that’s not the case. We’re looking to move forward. I think we had that in Larry and he was just not given, in my opinion, the opportunities to show himself,” said Van Rijn.
According to Van Rijn, as for the Dec. 22 council meeting, Coaldale Mayor Kim Craig and the CAO Review Committee (which consists of Craig and councillors Sherrie Duda and Jacen Abrey) brought forth the motion to terminate the services of Davidson during his probation period.
“With his probational period being over in the middle of January, they felt that they had some concerns they wanted to discuss, which myself, did not necessarily agree with. I think ultimately, it should be an unanimous decision for something of this significance to let a CAO go but at the end of the meeting it was brought up to a vote and it came in 5-2,” said Van Rijn. Looking back, Davidson was thrown into the proverbial fire, so to speak, as he had to put out the burning embers of a community divided on issues including future policing in the town.
During the transition of finding a new CAO, Van Rijn said, Coaldale is going to have to press the pause button.
“The developers and people that do business with Coaldale — they see that nothing is going to be happening now again until we have somebody put in place again,” said Van Rijn, adding the town needs to do that sooner than later.
“In speaking with prominent citizens in Coaldale since this all happened and developers, they liked working with Larry, he was a very easy go to person. He would take the time to sit down and talk with anybody about anything and if there was any red tape with any development or any items to do as far as doing business with Coaldale goes, he would find what the problem was and would get a resolve for that person. I had a lot of positive comments about Larry, even in social situations. I had town staff come up to me and say how happy they were with our CAO. When this all came about on Dec. 22 it was a big surprise. Hopefully, we can move in the right direction,” said Van Rijn.
The reason Hohm voted against letting Davidson go during the vote by council, Hohm explained, was he felt Davidson had been doing an excellent job in the position of CAO.
“There may have been some personality issues and some issues with staffing and etc. When I look at the position itself and what it was that we were doing as a council, I looked at it as saying ‘OK, that should be outside of whether the person is doing a good job or not’ and it shouldn’t have come in as deeply as it did into the discussion of whether we kept the CAO or not. I thought those were two separate issues. I don’t think they were treated as two separate issues,” said Hohm. Hohm did note the vote was done in-camera.
Mayor Craig said with the CAO situation being a personnel matter he must respect and maintain confidentiality.
“Kalen Hastings has been appointed as interim CAO. Council will be discussing how it plans to move forward in coming meetings,” noted Craig.