Home Business & Economy Municipal & Civic Saanich suddenly parts ways with CAO

Saanich suddenly parts ways with CAO

district of saanich
The District of Saanich is a large municipality in the Greater Victoria area.

Tuesday November 30, 2021 | SAANICH, BC

by Mary P Brooke, Editor | Island Social Trends

The top staffer at the District of Saanich has been let go.

The District announced this morning that it has decided to end its relationship with Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Paul Thorkelsson effective November 29, 2021.

“It’s not a decision that Council made lightly,” said Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes in an interview this afternoon with Island Social Trends. “It was decided by the will of Council. But once we decided, we moved fairly expeditiously,” the business-oriented mayor said today.

Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes
District of Saanich Mayor Fred Haynes

Haynes said the priorities of the nine-member council include taking care of “the residents of Saanich and all of staff”, and the “top priority is the continuity of the District of Saanich”. He also noted that “how the businesses feel” about doing business with the municipality is important to Council.

“There are about 4,500 businesses in the District of Saanich, and I’m responsible for those as well,” said Haynes.

Moving in new directions:

Personnel confidentiality restricts too much information from being released, but Haynes was enthusiastic about saying how a new CAO after the October 2022 municipal election will help the large district take its policies and manner of operation in new more robust directions.

Was this something that came on suddenly? “These processes are never sudden,” says Haynes. “Once the decision was made, we moved fairly expeditiously.” He said council had “cast their minds out 18 months” in terms of deciding how to proceed.

It sounds like having a digital skill set might have been part of the decision, to line up with the digital directions of the municipality moving forward and dealing effectively with businesses. Presently the District of Saanich is in the process of digitizing the building approval application process.

Apparently most CAO’s last about five to six years in that top administrative position. Statistics show that about 35 to 40 percent of CAO’s move on after a new council comes into place, says Haynes.

Leadership, but moving on:

“Saanich has benefited from Paul’s leadership these past six years,” said Mayor Fred Haynes. “On behalf of Saanich Council and staff, we thank Paul for his service and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Paul Thorkelsson
Paul Thorkelsson, CAO of the District of Saanich (2016-2021)

Paul Thorkelsson started as CAO with District of Saanich in 2016. According to his LinkedIn profile, before that he was with the Regional District of Nanaimo for 10 years (four of those as CAO). Prior to that for four years he was the manager of building inspection for the City of Nanaimo, after running Thorkelsson Fry Architectural Associates.

District of Saanich Council has appointed Director of Building, Bylaw, Licensing and Legal Services Brent Reems as acting CAO effective December 6, 2021. Reems “has his hand in all the files of the District of Saanich,” says Haynes, and has been overseeing the digitization of the building approvals application process.

Saanich councillors presently include long-time politician Susan Brice (who chairs the Victoria Regional Transit Commission) and Colin Plant (who chairs the Capital Regional District Board), and Rebecca Mersereau (CRD board vice-chair and Capital Regional Hospital Board acting chair). The CRD recently held their board election for this final upcoming year before the October 2022 election.

saanich council 2021
District of Saanich Council (at 2021)

Interim CAO through most of 2022:

Recruitment for an interim CAO will begin immediately. The hiring process will take a few months, and Mayor Haynes hopes to have an interim CAO in place between around February to April. That person will be able to apply again for the full-time CAO position after the October 15, 2022 municipal election with a new Saanich council in place.

With “business continuity” in mind, the interim CAO will remain in the position until after the 2022 municipal election (which is on October 15, 2022). The new Council will be responsible for recruiting the permanent CAO.

Haynes says Council is expecting “an incredible fleet of applicants” for the interim position. The job posting will be launched around December 10, 2021.

Haynes declared his intention to run for Mayor again, in next year’s election, as has at least one other candidate.

Large municipality:

The District of Saanich’s population in 2016 was 114,148 but now can boast about 125,000, says Haynes; there are about 45,000 homes within the municipality. That makes it the largest municipality in the Greater Victoria area, the eighth largest in the province, and the 44th largest in Canada.

Saanich borders six other municipalities of the 13 that are represented by the Capital Regional District (CRD).

Saanich is home to major employers like the University of Victoria and Camosun College.

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