Questions have been raised about the credentials of Cumberland’s new chief administrative officer, Sundance Topham, who was recently appointed to the position by a selection committee consisting of incoming mayor Leslie Baird, and incumbent councillors Gwyn Sproule and Kate Greening.
Mayor Fred Bates had proposed the committee include himself, two councillors, a professional human resources person and a CAO. Baird instead motioned to not include a consultant on the selection panel, at which point Bates and Coun. Bronco Moncrief stepped away from the process.
“That’s frankly making a mockery out of the process,” Bates said this week. “They’re not the experts at selecting senior staff.”
Greening and Sproule were questioned at last week’s all-candidates’ forum about the selection process and about the hefty salary that comes with the position, which became vacant when former CAO Anja Nurvo left in September. She earned $108,736 a year.
While she wouldn’t disclose his salary, Greening said at the forum that Topham’s salary will be smaller than the past few CAOs.
In a Monday interview, Sproule said the selection process included a series of questions to do with problem-solving, public relations, managing staff and other factors concerning a CAO’s job.
“They were questions that drew out the candidate,” she said, noting the committee also considered experience in the role of a CAO and as an approving and corporate officer. She also noted the loss of corporate services manager Christine Matthews and an outside approving officer.
“These positions have to be covered,” Sproule said. “This young man I believe has the qualifications of approving officer. We’re looking to fill a lot of legal roles.”
The committee interviewed only candidates with municipal experience in B.C. because the Local Government Act and Community Charter are specific to B.C., Sproule added.
“To be a CAO, we have to have somebody who has current working knowledge of the two main legal bodies,” she said. “It was a fair, open and impartial process.”
Topham, who is completing a diploma in local government management at UVic, spent the past five years in local government administration, most recently as CAO at the District of Wells.
Sproule notes the public’s apprehension with a stranger.
“We think that this young man is a perfect fit for Cumberland and the direction it’s going in,” she said.
Moncrief, who twice in the summer shortlisted candidates himself from nearly 50 applications, felt the selection committee needed to include a consultant who understands the Community Charter and other such requirements for a CAO to lead council.
Sproule said a consultant was not included because of the associated costs, which can run into the thousands. A consultant, she added, would have generated the same types of questions the committee formulated.
“Why would we pay somebody?” she said. “We’re trying to not spend taxpayers’ money when we didn’t consider it necessary.”