A recent CBC story is garnering a lot of attention in Grand Forks. The story features an interview with a local resident who is questioning the decision of the City to re-hire Doug Allin as CAO, after paying out his severance package.
Donald Pharand said he was stunned when he heard about Allin’s rehiring and he filed a Freedom of Information request to find out exactly what happened.
“I’m upset that the city is spending all this money—the $192,000 payout at the end of the year and then the rehiring,” said Pharand. “That the city hired him back, it’s like: what’s going on here?”
Pharand said that the story has not been covered much by the media but now that the information is coming out in a press release after an FOI request, he’s left wondering.
“It answered some of the questions that people wondered,” he said about the release. “Now it’s coming out. It’s like the optics aren’t very good.”
Allin had been CAO for almost two years when he and the previous council agreed that he would leave the organization.
According to the Dec. 31, 2013 Statement of Financial Information (SOFI) report, Allin made $142,995.04 in 2013.
The severance agreement between the city and Allin stated that he would be compensated for one year of salary and benefits for a total of $191,321.10. The actual payout to Allin was $115,577.30.
The contract further outlined that Allin would act as a consultant to the city for a period of six months through Urban Systems. He would also retain use of a laptop and cell phone, which he continues to use.
Allin’s current contract with the city is for three years at $133,000 in annual wages. The contract includes five weeks of vacation and a contribution from Allin of 400 hours of overtime to offset the severance package.
Pharand said there must have been a problem with Allin for council to relieve him.
“We don’t know what the problem was but there definitely some serious problem and then they bring him back,” said Pharand. “I don’t buy that he’s the best qualified and that he’s the only one who could’ve done this. The optics aren’t good. I don’t have the wherewithal to ask the questions. That’s why we are trying to get the attorney general in here.”
Pharand also took exception to the fact that Allin was retained as a consultant even after he was relieved of his duties as city CAO.
“Doug Allin is sitting pretty,” he said. “It’s all a lark. It doesn’t mean anything. Why would you let him walk out with the cell phone and computer? He’s got access to everything going on in the city. There’s something really wrong here. It’s really stinky.”
Pharand lives in rural Grand Forks (area D) and loves the community. Although he doesn’t live within city limits, he worked in town, he shops in town and pays into shared services such as schools, recreation centre, parks, sewer and more. His mailing address is Grand Forks.
He said he is trying to bring awareness to the residents about the issue. He said it’s troubling how they hide behind in-camera meetings.
“My opinion matters tremendously in the community because I’ve been a community activist in Grand Forks on issues related to Grand Forks since 1985,” said Pharand. “I’ve been very involved in the community process. It’s not that I just parachuted down.”
Pharand has not yet talked to the attorney general (Suzanne Anton) but is getting his information and questions in order before he does.
“We’re dealing with the law and we’re dealing with the municipal act and my feeling is that there was a miscarriage of justice,” said Pharand. “The only appeal I have in this is through the attorney general’s office…if there has been any miscarriage of justice by the old council or whatever that it be pointed out and redressed.”
He is also planning to make a petition, which he will bring to the streets of Grand Forks soon, to the attorney general.
Responding to a question from the Gazette on whether the attorney general’s office would look into the matter, a representative said, “Neither the community charter nor the Local Government Act have rules specifying the terms and conditions of a statutory officer’s employment. Generally these are decisions that local governments make under their broad authorities to enter into contracts.”
Mayor Frank Konrad said that the termination was not shrouded in secrecy as some members of the public have stated. He also said there is no issue.
“My response is there is no response,” he said. “If citizens have concerns they should come forward and express them. Council made a decision that I feel as mayor was a good decision.”
Konrad said it is unlikely the City could have done better in its search for a new CAO.
“Mr. Allin is familiar with the City,” he said. “He’s experienced in his field barring none. I don’t know why people would come forward now and upset the apple cart—all it’s going to do is create more scarring in this municipality.”
Konrad said the City has had so many controversial issues recently that it is sure to affect the efforts to attract new businesses to town.
“Would you feel like going to a dinner party where the husband and wife are fighting?” he said. “No, of course not. You would leave because it’s uncomfortable. We are discouraging businesses from coming here because they deem Grand Forks as a controversial city, which causes no good for anyone.”
As for the decision by the last council regarding Allin’s leaving the City, Konrad said he cannot comment on the issue because he was not present.
“In all honesty, I have no knowledge what transpired in that in-camera meeting,” he said. “Even if I did I could not talk about it nor would I. That’s all past history. If we would have hired a different CAO we still would have to pay out that severance package.”
At the regular council meeting on Monday, councillor Chris Hammet brought up her concern about the CBC interview during her report.
“I’m totally dismayed that this is still an issue and that there are still some people out there who continue to try to expose a conspiracy that doesn’t exist,” she said. “When I decided to run for council I was looking forward to working with Mr. Allin.”
Hammett said she was very disappointed when she learned that the previous council had met with Allin and agreed on a mutual termination within a week of the election.
“The behaviour of a minority of residents and non-residents over the installation of water meters was appalling such that bullying, intimidation, harassment and threats were directed towards Mr. Allin and his family,” she said. “WorkSafeBC would not tolerate such behaviour in the work place and our previous council agreed that they could not force someone to work in an unsafe environment.”
Hammett said they interviewed several good candidates for the CAO position but none came close to the background, history and knowledge of Allin.
She added that the new contract with Allin was fair and much lower than the City would have paid to bring in a new CAO.
Sarah Winton, deputy corporate officer/communications for Grand Forks, said that people need to realized that the number of complaints about the termination, severance and re-hiring of Allin are minimal.
“City Hall has not had a large negative response,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of support for Doug. We need to keep in perspective the number of people who take issue with the situation.”
Winton said the City prides itself on being accurate and forthcoming and they have nothing to fear from the attorney general.
“The City follows its policies and procedures,” she said. “We meet all our legislative requirements. Everything council and staff does is 100 per cent above board and we take pride in that. That’s our job to ensure what we do is in keeping with the law.”
Winton reiterated that the decision of the previous council to terminate the contact with Allin was in keeping with the employment contract.
“The same goes for the new council in the hiring process and in negotiating a new contract with Mr. Allin,” she said.
Winton said there was no clause in the previous contract stating that Allin would have his severance terminated upon starting a new job.
“That’s typical,” she said. “It’s not unique and it was considerably lower than what it could have been.”
Winton said the minutes from the meeting in November where the previous council agreed to terminate Allin’s contract are still in-camera although the resolution has been released. She said the current council does have access to the minutes from that meeting.
Winton also added that retaining Allin as a consultant after his contract was terminated was important to the City for continuity.
“As the CAO he was working on a lot of projects that staff weren’t,” she said. “Higher level projects that were part of the strategic priorities of council. Other staff didn’t know anything about them. It was really important that he provided some consulting and provide the background information for staff that had to pick up where he left off.”