Council to Decide Options to Replace CAO

Last September, after CAO Stephen Peacock went on Medical leave, Ian Davey was appointed Interim CAO for 6 months with the idea that at the end of that time, an “interim CAO” would be named for a further 24 months.  But at a special closed session Council meeting on December 16, Human Resources provided a report to Council that “confirmed Council’s ability to proceed with filling the Chief Administrative Officer position on a permanent basis. Council requested that the Human Resources Manager (Melissa Henke) provide a revised report with their options related to the recruit of the permanent full time Chief Administrative Officer.”  That report will be presented to Council’s Committee of the Whole meeting on January 6. The report includes a range of options together with their benefits, drawbacks and costs.

According to the “Sunshine report”, Stephen was paid $160,346 in 2018 so the new position will be paid about that much.  For comparison, the Directors who report to the CAO are paid approx. $130K.


For the full report, see the link below – it’s quite long and comprehensive but here is a summary.

Option #1  – Hire an External Search Firm/Consultant


  • Specialized knowledge
  • Wider range of candidates
  • Expert guidance in the recruitment and hiring process
  • “Guarantee” that candidate will stay for at least a year


  • Cost of $25K to $30K or more – 2019 budget for this was $10K
  • Will take longer since three quotes will be required to select a recruitment firm.

Option #2 –  Conduct the Recruitment Process Internally
That is, performed by HR Staff.


  • Lower Cost
  • Less Time required


  • Fewer Candidates

Option # 3 – Hire a Consultant (Expert or HR) to assist Council
As Option # 2 but rather than dealing directly with the Human Resources Manager a consultant would be hired to assist Council directly. The consultant could be a HR Consultant or a subject matter expert consultant, such as a former CAO.


  • Lower cost than option #1
  • Less time spent by Council

Drawbacks of Option #3

  • Uncertainty of the cost of a consultant but probably around $20K to $25K.
  • Requires time to get three quotes and hire consultant.

Option #4  – Maintain Status Quo
That is, extend the current Interim CAO role for a defined period and postpone hiring until a later date.


  • Money would be saved from the recruitment process.
  • Staff and Council resources would be saved from a time perspective.


  • Delaying the hiring of a permanent full time CAO may interrupt future strategic plans of Council.

Option #5 Appoint the Interim CAO to a permanent full time CAO


  • Money would be saved from the recruitment process.
  • Staff and Council resources would be saved from a time perspective.
  • Continuity of operations would be maintained by retaining the current interim CAO.


  • This process does not allow external applicants to participate in an open recruitment process.

Option #6 –  Do not hire a CAO
There is no requirement under the Municipal Act to hire a CAO. Council could consider the merits of a non­traditional municipal structure without a CAO. (Although Melissa does not mention it, I note that Port Hope does not have a CAO, just Department Directors.)


  • The cost of recruitment and the cost of the CAO’s salary would be saved.


  • Additional work required by Council
  • Staff may become disengaged without a CAO to provide day to day direction and overall guidance to implement Council’s vision and strategic direction.
  • May require restructuring reporting relationships for departments that currently report to the CAO position

For options 1, 2 and 3, Melissa recommends a “CAO Hiring Committee comprised of the Mayor, Deputy Mayor and a Councillor”.

For options 2 and 3, advertising is estimated to cost $2,500 – $3,000.

If one of Options 4, 5 or 6 is chosen, then Council would proceed in a closed session – otherwise it’s expected that a decision would be made at the C.O.W. meeting then ratified at the regular council meeting on January 13.



At the Committee of the Whole Council meeting on 6 January, Council voted to select option 1.  That means a “head hunter” will be hired and there will be no promotion of an internal candidate – at least not right now. They would also have all councillors review the short list and the Councillor for the “CAO Hiring Committee” would be Emily Chorley.

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Paul Pagnuelo
4 years ago

With total assets of $194 Million and $47.5 Million in expenses (2018 data), the Town of Cobourg is clearly not a small-town operation.

The CAO is the administrative head of the municipality. His/her job is to ensure all Council resolutions and bylaws are carried out efficiently and effectively.

The CAO serves as the link between council, which sets policy, and administration, which implements policy. The CAO is expected to understand the direction of council and ensure that programs and services are delivered within the spirit and intent of council’s mandate.

The responsibilities of a CAO require a high level of professional expertise, education, specific training and relevant work experience. Council should expect to receive in-depth analyses, options and preferred alternatives from the CAO and nothing less.

Council’s decision to hire a new CAO means utilizing a recruitment process that ensures the best person possible for the municipality is hired. Not only must the short list of candidates meet the qualifications Council is looking for, more importantly, they must have the skill set to take Cobourg in the direction Council has chosen for the future.

This is an opportune time for Council as a whole to evaluate the municipality’s strengths and understand the challenges. Where does Council want the municipality to be in five or ten years? What is Council’s vision and how can it best deliver the services and community that residents – not senior staff – favour?

A strong and successful municipality relies on the CAO. A well-developed recruitment process ensures that Council hires a person who possesses the core skills the municipality needs now and into the future.

Hiring a CAO is said to be a challenge at the best of times. Hiring the right person is key to moving the community forward and a successful working relationship between Council and Administration. This is not the time to try saving a few bucks by choosing the “El Cheapo” options 2-6.

I would recommend that Council choose Option 1. Hiring an external search firm/consultant provides benefits which are well worth the quoted price tag of $25-30 K. Furthermore, given the importance of finding the right person for the job, all of Council and not a committee of just three should be directly involved in the hiring process.

Anonymous Two
4 years ago

I believe very strongly that Option 1 is the only one that should be considered. i would like to see the Town cast a wide net when seeking a new CAO in order to find someone with a considerable amount of experience in other jurisdictions. While succession from within is sometimes a good idea, for the health of the administrative process from time to time fresh blood should be brought in.

4 years ago

I believe a CAO, for Cobourg, is required. Don’t know how its working for Port Hope. However, based on past assessments of the Staff-Council relationships I believe that Option 6 would turnout to be catastrophic. I believe that we have, as a group, one of our strongest Councils ever and I also believe that there is a current negative dynamic between Staff and Council (has been for years). The CAO needs to be positioned: To ensure that Councils requirements are properly articulated back through Staff; and that the Staff response meets those requirements. If this pivotal position is not in play then we have a Council that needs to negotiate with individual directors. Further as of now Staff do not report into Council. To change this would require Policy changes, though not abhorrent in and of itself, but I just don’t see Council having discretionary time to deal with, and make decisions on, Staff personnel issues (e.g. performance). Normally I don’t advocate for hierarchical organizations, especially when an organization has an opportunity to flatten itself. However in this case we have 2 functioning modes – political and operational, having different stakeholders. So my vote is to remove Option 6 from the table of options.