Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Any attention is good, as long as they spell your name right, right?

Prince Rupert's current municipal tempest, the dabbling of Mayor Herb Pond into the world of municipal hiring has made it to the national press, as the Globe and Mail picks up Kris Schumacher's Daily News story of Monday.

The Globe, through its affiliation with Canadian Press has the article in its Municipal affairs category and posted the story to its website today.

While the Mayor is certainly used to having his name in print across the nation, he probably won't be quite as enthusiastic about his latest close up in the nation's national press.

Not bad for an issue that the local media seemed rather hesitant to even bring up once upon a time... Should any job offers arise for Mr. Schumacher, we certainly hope he brings Ms. Ashley along as a research assistant.

Prince Rupert residents question contract given to city manager's wife
The Canadian Press
August 27, 2008

PRINCE RUPERT -/- Some Prince Rupert residents are questioning the city's financial and hiring practices after learning an administrative contract wasn't publicly tendered.

They're concerned Mayor Herb Pond hired a special projects manager without input from councillors, particularly because the woman is married to city manager Gord Howie.

According to documents obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Tannalee Hesse received about $110,000 for 18 months work between July of 2006 and April of 2008 under two corporate contracts.

Local business owner Ted Sylvester has kept a watchful eye on municipal affairs for years and says he's disappointed councillors haven't raised their own concerns after hearing from local residents.

But Mr. Pond defends hiring Ms. Hesse, saying that while it was an unusual decision, she was hired on merit and the city set guidelines around her relationship with Mr. Howie.

Firefighter Rick Roemer said he's wondering why Ms. Hesse's job wasn't advertised and she was hired "in secrecy."

"City management claims council knew about it but councillors say they basically knew nothing about it," Mr. Roemer said.

"If there's conflict between city management and city council, what does that lead taxpayers to believe is going on behind the doors at city hall?"

Several residents have drafted letters to Mr. Pond and city council, stating elected officials have failed to address the nepotism and cloud of secrecy that have crept into city hall.

The letters assert that council has been derelict in its duty to question expenditures in the city's financial statements and demand to be informed of what's happening.

Mr. Pond said Ms. Hesse has the skills to do the job but that she and Mr. Howie were initially "reluctant" to enter into the contract.

"What we were able to do, and were very fortunate to do, was take advantage of someone who was in the community who actually does this work across the province at a much higher rate and is in pretty high demand and we were able to employ her services on some targeted projects as they were required," Mr. Pond said.

He said one of the guidelines is that staff would not report to Ms. Hesse, who has "no authoritative relationship with the organization."

Michael Vaughan, a municipal lawyer and expert on local government affairs, said that at some level all contracts need council's authority, although it may not be required in the form of an official resolution.

Mr. Vaughan, who was the municipal clerk in Sechelt for more than five years and teaches municipal law to city hall employees at Capilano College, said it's unusual for a mayor to usurp public notice for an employment contract due to special circumstances.

"If that were necessary, the practical process would be to do something deemed necessary and then immediately have it ratified by council at the next meeting of council," Mr. Vaughan said.

"Employment contracts are typically dealt with in-camera but they are usually disclosed to the public by an announcement from council in open session as to what they've done."

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