Town drops quarter million package on outgoing CAO

By Tanya Foubert - Canmore

Canmore's taxpayers have paid the hefty price of just under a quarter of a million dollars to see former Chief Administrative Officer Gene Kiviaho leave his position earlier this year.

The severance package given to Kiviaho was obtained by the Outlook under the Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act. It revealed the former CAO was cut a cheque for $219,053 when his 10 months of employment with the municipal government ended on March 2, something they mayor says is the cost of doing business.

"There is always going to be a cost to changing administration or to changing personnel," Mayor Ron Casey said Tuesday (July 3). "You hope that those instances don't occur, but they do and you cannot let the dollars stand in the way of making what is the right decision for the community."

Kiviaho was hired by the Town through Edmonton-based HR Group Management Consultants, who were paid $11,000, including expenses, to find a replacement for outgoing CAO Bert Dyck. Kiviaho left a position in the MD of Kneehill County to begin in Canmore April of 2006.

According to audited financial statements presented to council in April, the position of CAO in 2006 had a salary of $153,880 and benefits in the amount of $20,275 bringing Kiviaho's total to $175,155 for the year. The position of CAO, however, is generally the highest paid in municipal government, as the role entails overseeing the Town's entire operation.

Casey said Kiviaho leaving the employ of the town was a mutual parting of ways and that if there was any cause to fire the CAO, "there would not have been any kind of settlement."

He said council also conducted two formal and one less formal performance reviews, but there was no stipulation in the CAO contract for the Town to part ways without a financial settlement if job performance was not up to par after an initial time period.

"Nobody goes to work in a new community without some assurance (of job security)," he said. "This is not new, it is difficult to find someone that fits the community and fits the administration.

"(CAO) is the worst job other than being mayor that you could imagine."

As for the search to find Kiviaho's replacement, Casey said the position has not been filled as of yet, but he expects one soon.

Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act inquiries to the Town of Canmore reveal only one other manager on staff received a severance package in 2006. A former aquatics manager for 19 years with the Town received a total settlement of $116,986 after being fired last summer.

Questions in the 2006 employee satisfaction survey that aim to measure the role of the Town's Chief Administrative Officer also came back less than glowing after Kiviaho's departure was announced.

Asked whether or not they agreed or disagreed that the "CAO communicates a compelling vision for the direction and future of our organization," only 40 per cent of staff agreed. Only 46 per cent agreed the CAO demonstrated strong leadership.

Kiviaho vacated the position of CAO for the municipality of High Level six years ago on stress leave, leaving after a highly-publicized dispute with one of the Town's councillors.

At one point, according to the councillor's lawyer, Kiviaho pressed assault charges against the councillor; charges which were withdrawn by the Crown before a trial was conducted.

When contacted Wednesday (July 4), Kiviaho refused to comment on vacating either his Canmore or High Level CAO positions. Whether or not Kiviaho received a severance package from High Level was information not available to the Outlook before press time.

Over a period of seven months after being acclaimed as a councillor in High Level, Steve MacIntyre said he had nothing but problems when dealing with Kiviaho.

The dispute culminated in Kiviaho pressing assault charges against MacIntyre, garnering national newspaper attention, charges that were later dropped by the Crown prosecutor moments before a trial was to take place.

In an interview with the Outlook MacIntyre painted a picture of constant staff turnover during Kiviaho's stay, the result of what he characterizes as a hostile work environment where people were afraid of losing their jobs.

MacIntyre's lawyer at the time, Doug Majeasic said that when the Crown drops criminal charges before a trial it is usually because it is unsafe to proceed.

"Typically, the reason that the Crown would withdraw a charge before a trial is because there would be no reasonable prospect of conviction," Majeasic said.

Majeasic added that he felt that having the charges dropped instead of an acquittal at trial was a stronger vindication for his client because it shows that the charges should not have been laid to begin with.

MacIntyre said that he does ruffle people's feathers with his straightforwardness but said he never physically assaulted Kiviaho and found the CAO's behaviour throughout the whole incident disturbing.

"I'm not a guy who backs down (but) I'm known as a fighter with my mouth," MacIntyre said.

MacIntyre said he was having a discussion with Kiviaho in the CAO's office when he tried to leave. Kiviaho then jumped up from his desk and blocked the door, locked it and began yelling and screaming.

MacIntyre said Kiviaho then told his staff to call the RCMP who came, arrested the councillor and took him to the police station to take a statement. MacIntyre was subsequently charged with assault and Kiviaho immediately went on leave from injuries he said came from the physical altercation.

Immediately after the charges were dropped by the Crown Kiviaho went on stress leave and never returned to his position as CAO.

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