ERIN – Councillors considered hiring a company to form a “desperately-needed” strategic plan, but ultimately bounced a recommendation back to Erin staff for review at a Jan. 18 meeting.
The previous iteration of the strategic plan, which guided community and council priorities for the past four years, expired at the end of 2023.
Town staff whittled 17 bids for the job down to the top six, and from those recommended Toronto-based consultant Optimus SBR Inc. at a pre-tax cost of $40,000.
Councillor Cathy Aylard said supporting the town’s “desperately-needed” plan would be one of this council’s most important tasks.
She urged council to defer a decision on hiring the company until a new town CAO was hired.
Former CAO Nathan Hyde abruptly quit last summer and started working for Caledon days later, after Caledon Mayor Annette Groves used her strong-mayor power to remove its CAO and hire Hyde.
Erin Fire Chief Jim Sawkins was appointed interim CAO while the town searches for candidates to take the top staff position, which carries a salary ranging from $118,276 to $138,372.
“I think this report is a bit premature, and a bit of a surprise,” Aylard said, explaining she wants a new CAO to have input on the process.
Councillor Bridget Ryan said the recommendation for a company to complete the work was done at council’s behest, but largely agreed with Aylard.
Ryan said the “culture, the flavour, the essence” brought by a company to the strategic plan process should be “supported fully by a new CAO.”
Councillors also voiced concerns about losing submitted bids if they delayed the decision.
Treasurer Wendy Parr, who presented the hiring recommendation from staff, said there is “very high interest” in the job, with several emails received by the town from bidders wanting notice of council’s decision.
“I’m hopeful that they will wait,” she said.
With the town’s previous strategic plan now expired, there’s urgency to the process, Parr added.
She said the request for bids on the job was posted in November and closed the same month; there hasn’t been the chance to present staff’s recommendation with the December break.
Sawkins suggested council move on hiring the consultant, and said not doing so could be seen as a bad-faith move.
Councillor Jamie Cheyne also noted the town isn’t likely to have a new CAO within the next two to four months.
(Council has been discussing potential applicants in meetings that are closed to the public and reporters.)
The town might also have to spend more tax dollars reissuing the tender because of council’s indecision, as well as additional time repeating the process to arrive at the same recommendation.
Mayor Michael Dehn asked if anything could change in staff’s recommendation if council forced its review.
“We did have specific items we were looking at, and of course it’s subjective because we’re looking at the technical aspects,” Parr said, adding the assessment completed by three staff was “very thorough.”
Council doesn’t know who the three evaluators were, what the assessment criteria was, or have a copy of the document on which companies based bids, Aylard said, calling for a more comprehensive report from staff.
“That would have to be done in closed session,” clerk Lisa Campion cautioned.
The town could open itself to legal issues if council gets involved where it shouldn’t, she said, noting a procurement bylaw spells out the law on how services are acquired and hired by the town.
Though council could see the information, Campion said the final recommendation for council’s consideration would still fall to staff.
“I would recommend actually engaging legal before we even put council in a position where they are reviewing these documents,” Campion advised.
“This is going to be our partner for at least 3.5 months, like on a very, very close relationship, so it’s got to be the right partner,” Aylard said.
“It’s a pretty serious consideration and I think we should just step back and do some further evaluation.”
Dehn reiterated Campion’s word of caution, saying that’s not council’s role.
Nonetheless, council voted unanimously on a motion from councillor John Brennan to send staff’s recommendation back to staff for a review.
There was no decision made by council on whether to hire the recommended company.