The fix is in, I have been told from many sources on many occasions; Tom Vair, Deputy CAO, Community Development & Enterprise Services, is going to be the next chief administrative officer of the City of Sault Ste. Marie.
Mayor Christian Provenzano, the story goes, hired him away from his job as executive director of the Innovation Centre two years ago with just that thought in mind, that any selection process set up by council will be just a sham..
Funny thing, though, Vair, the man at the centre of it all and who admits to having heard the rumours, doesn’t seem to agree.
Nor does Provenzano, who is heading up a recruitment committee to hire a new CAO to replace Al Horsman, whose four-year contract is up in September and is not going to be renewed, by mutual agreement, we are told.
Nor do the mayor’s colleagues on the recruitment committee, Councillors Rick Niro and Donna Hilsinger, agree.
As the writer of what is mainly an opinion column, I’m not big on dealing with rumours.
But sometimes I believe it is necessary, to trot out both sides of an issue so people can make up their own minds, as well, I should say, to give my ears a rest from the rumour mill.
This is one of those times.
In regard to Vair, I thought he made it clear in a reply to my email that he does not consider himself a heir apparent, in fact, he left some doubt as to whether he would even be applying for the job.
“From my time here at the city I can say that, from the mayor and CAO down, there is a continual emphasis to ensure our hiring practices are fair and merit based. I would expect nothing less for the CAO position and am confident there will be a number of experienced internal and external candidates who will apply and be fully vetted through the hiring process,” he said.
“Clearly it’s important to have a good person in place in this role and I look forward to working with whomever is in this position. I have a number of major and exciting projects on the go with our team in Community Development and Enterprise Services and I’m committed to seeing these through.”
Prior to joining the city in September 2016, Vair had been with the Innovation Centre since 2005.
As for the mayor, he said:
“To the point and substance of the rumour, I can tell you, unequivocally and without reservation, that it is baseless. Since my election in 2014, I have advocated for and been committed to merit- based hiring practices and processes. This process will be no different.
“I have copied Councillor Niro and Councillor Hilsinger. The three of us haven’t had one singular conversation about any potential candidate and we will not until we are in the part of the process that requires that deliberation. My office and Human Resources is just now finalizing the materials for our first meeting . . . You are welcome to attend. As a committee of council it is open to the public.
“I’d leave you with one last thought. I appreciate and understand that our community has a distinct history with the CAO position and that it has, as a position, taken on a higher profile and prevalence here than it may have in other communities. But I would suggest to you that the history is simply that,: history. It is an old story now and it really has no bearing on where we are or where we are going. The CAO position is a job, nothing more or less, and it is due time we treat it accordingly.”
This was an obvious reference to the uproar that followed then mayor Joe Fratesi ousting then CAO Alan Jackson from the CAO’s job back in 1995 and cowing council into giving it to him.
I imagine a lot of residents of this city and especially the employees of city hall who lived through the yelling and the screaming that became the norm will say amen to Provenzano’s suggestion..
Niro, who said he had not heard of the rumour about Vair, also defended the recruitment process.
“I did not sign up or have any desire to be part of a “sham,” he said in reply to my email..
“Let me be very clear, At no time have I discussed possible candidates for the CAO position with the mayor or Coun. Hilsinger. As a matter of fact our first meeting was just confirmed this afternoon to be on Thursday March 7.
He said he believes the process that Council approved is a good one and he planned to follow it.
“I have no preconceived notion of who should be the next CAO,” he said.
Hilsinger said she also believes the process council approved is a good one and that she had no preconceived notion of who should be selected for the CAO position.
“There will be no anointment and no sham,” she said.
There you have it, the rumour and those speaking against it.
Personally, I tend to think that with the comments being so transparent that the process will be conducted fairly.
But I would suggest that when the recruitment committee decides on a nominee, that it also forward to council the names and backgrounds of the other candidates who made it to an interview.
That doesn’t seem to have been the case back in 2014 when David Orazietti, Sault MPP and a cabinet minister in the then-Liberal government, was passed over for the job in favour of Horsman.
How could that happen?
Horsman, who came out of the municipal corporation in Guelph but had also worked elsewhere and in government, did appear to have solid credentials but I didn’t believe they compared favourably with those of Orazietti, a lifelong resident of the Sault who had served two terms on council and at the time had 11 years in the provincial government, some of them in cabinet positions, behind him.
Actually I wasn’t surprised when it was announced that Horsman’s contract would not be renewed. I thought the writing for that was on the wall after he misinformed council back in February 2017 about the hiring of two public educators for the fire department.
As I wrote in a column on Feb. 18 of that year, a story in The Sault Star on Feb. 1 revealed there was a dispute between Horsman and Richard Bishop, President of the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Firefighters Association Local 529, as to whether or not a second public educator had been hired by the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Service at an annual salary of $103,000.
Bishop claimed two public educators were hired at that salary but then one was fired after being on the job for only a month because questions about the pay grade were raised.
Horsman had countered that the second position was never formally finalized and was put on hold until a review of the fire service by the Ontario Fire Marshal, launched in December 2016, was completed and recommendations made.
He had told council the same thing in closed session.
As I attempted to find out whose version of this event was correct, I was provided with a copy of the termination (permanent layoff) notice the second person to be hired received from human resources.
She said she had been in the job for “about a month and a half.”
I later learned she received a little more than $22,000 from the city for the six weeks she spent on the job.
I also learned that after my column appeared council, with some of its members a tad unhappy on learning about what actually was the case, had another chat with Horsman behind closed doors.
In truth, I would hope that the recruitment committee would find someone in city hall to fill the job of CAO. I think it is time that we begin to hire people who can come up through the ranks to fill the top jobs such as CAO, fire chief and police chief.
In 2014 and 2015 we hired a CAO, a fire chief and a police chief all from the outside the city. With Horsman’s departure, all will be gone. We have to do better than that.