Lets keep it real

It was at a budget meeting that a veteran reporter one time asked, “How are you going to sell this?”

The question presupposed that politicians should sell decisions to ratepayers rather than lay out the facts and reasons for the choices made.

We were reminded of that reporter’s question last Tuesday, when a press release was issued about the departure of Michael Wood, chief administrative officer (CAO) of Centre Wellington. The press release was more of a sales job than a report to ratepayers.

The notice of Wood’s departure came as a complete surprise to our Centre Wellington reporter, since nothing had been noted at the council meeting the night previous. No action was presented after an in-camera session and an actual resolution appointing an acting CAO has yet to be voted on, according to the township clerk.

The press release stated Wood would be stepping down, leading most people to assume by the language that it was his choice to call it a day. If that was the case, according to Wood’s employment agreement (found on the township website) he was obligated to give three month’s notice, which obviously did not happen.

Despite inquires about timelines and whether Wood was held to his employment agreement, the Advertiser has yet to determine how this all unfolded. After the mayor’s vague interview this week, we suspect readers will never know the full details.

When two other senior officials in Centre Wellington ended their time here, a retirement party was held. We have heard of no plans for such a party, suggesting to us this story may not have unfolded as it was presented.

Most of us have been around long enough to know quick departures usually have a financial consequence. According to Wood’s contract, a maximum of 18 months’ worth of salary was to be paid in the event of a dismissal. No confirmation has been provided whether a payout will be made.

Considering the very real loss of revenue should slots income cease, and whether or not Centre Wellington remains a beneficiary of provincial top-up money for small municipalities, this amount of money is significant and would have a budgetary consequence. On that basis, taxpayers deserve to know.

These employee issues can be ticklish things. It’s hard to be candid where privacy of an employee is concerned and we respect that, but this has not been handled the best.

The recent fumbling of a firefighter’s insurance proceeds comes to mind as another example of poor human resources management that should have never gone as far as it did. Ratepayers are pretty astute, and after some voter reaction, the firefighter’s family finally reached a settlement with the township.

In an attempt to sell Wood’s departure to ratepayers, claims were made in the press release that are far too grand to give a free pass. Acknowledging his 11 years as CAO, the mayor stated in her release “the municipality has prospered and become a centre of tourism and economic activity in the region.”

It is more than a stretch to suggest that Wood, council, or staff for that matter, in recent years have caused Centre Wellington to “become” the centre of tourism. Visitors have been coming to this area since the late 1800s to enjoy its scenic beauty. “In Love with Elora,” the “Teddy Bear Caper” and other campaigns from the past drew tourists long before amalgamation brought Centre Wellington together.

Further to that, events like the Scottish Festival and Highland Games, the Fergus Truck Show and the Elora Festival, among countless others, were volunteer-driven celebrations that have been attracting visitors to this area for decades. It would be a shame to overlook those who poured so much of their time and effort into events before Centre Wellington was even conceived. Tourism is not a recent phenomenon.

The same can be said for economic activity in general. The fact that Centre Wellington has land for development and other communities have a limited supply hardly makes a case for exceptional management.

That Centre Wellington has spent millions through its economic development and tourism department with little in the way of concrete results speaks for itself too.

In recent times there has been a lot of cheering in this department and by the mayor, but once the horns stop blowing, we think people will have to search pretty hard to find any private sector employment growth of consequence.

People who drive around Centre Wellington today see the efforts of pre-amalgamated Fergus and Elora, and leaders who worked hard to bring industry to this area.

Other families and businesses have expanded their holdings here too, with little or no help from the township. For the mayor’s press release to suggest somehow that the present administration has a lock on Centre Wellington’s success is a little much. Real jobs for residents were brought here long ago.

As Mayor Ross Zuj told our reporter last week, “Today is day one of a new beginning.” We hope that beginning includes more genuine communication with citizens and far less salesmanship.