CVRD managers' current wages now subject to FOI process

CVRD Chairman Rob Hutchins. - file
CVRD Chairman Rob Hutchins.
— image credit: file

Taxpayers wanting to know exactly what they pay Cowichan Valley Regional District managers must now go through a freedom-of-information application or wait for CVRD’s spring financial statement, the CVRD chairman indicates.

Comparatively, the CVRD’s new wage FOI process was not ordered by the province, nor has it been instituted at the North Cowichan municipal hall, officials said respectively.

The News Leader Pictorial asked CVRD Chairman Rob Hutchins why the recent FOI process was started, who ordered it, and if it was in reaction to recent public outcry about rising wage levels among CVRD managers.

“After consultation with both our labour lawyer — and Kathleen Harrison, our freedom of information officer — in mid-June our practice changed,” Hutchins’ Aug. 12 email reply to the Leader says.

“It is not a written policy, it is a standard of practice that any requests for specific information about specific employees, for example how much someone makes, and the terms of a settlement agreement — would go through the FOI request process.

“The legislation has two components: freedom of information; and protection of privacy,” Hutchins explains.

“In order to ensure we provided a consistent response that met both our legal duty to an inquiring public, and the Protection of Privacy component of the legislation that protects the individual employee(s), the most prudent course of action was to have all requests for specifics go through the FOI process.”

That CVRD process prevented the Leader from gaining timely access — as was available in the past — to exact salaries of various new CVRD managers. Salaries of managers earning $75,000 or more are listed in the CVRD’s 2013 Statement of Financial Information, dated May 14, 2014.

Joe Barry, CVRD’s legislative services manager, explained the region’s new FOI process for current wages when the Leader asked for a recap of new managers hired as recent vacancies were filled.

Outside of wages listed in the June SOFI report to the CVRD board, Barry could only state salary ranges under the new FOI edict.

For example, former engineering services manager, Brian Dennison, is listed as earning $147,785, plus expenses, last year.

Dennison has replaced former water manager Dave Leitch, who left the CVRD in the spring for reasons still unexplained by the CVRD. Leitch made $116,676 in 2013. Details of his severance package are also unknown to the public.

Dennison’s former post has been filled by Hamid Hatani, whose salary range is $122,695 to $143,536, Barry said.

Ross Blackwell has replaced retired planning and development manager, Tom Anderson ($147,427 in 2013). Blackwell’s salary range is the same as Hatani’s, explained Barry.

CVRD’s new CAO, Brian Carruthers, starts work Sept. 2. His wage range is $159,876 to $187,032, Barry said.

Carruthers succeeds former CVRD boss, Warren Jones, who left the CVRD in February for reasons still not released by the CVRD. Jones earned about $198,000 a year. His severance package is $335,000.

Finally, Tauseef Waraich has replaced the CVRD’s former recycling and waste manager, Bob McDonald. He also left in April for unreleased reasons — with a confidential severance package. McDonald earned $111,372 in 2013.

Waraich’s wage range is $90,163 to $105,477, Barry said.

But making taxpayers and reporters file FOI papers to learn public wages now was seeming nonsense to Jordan Bateman of the Canadian Taxpayers Federation.

“The CVRD is playing games with its taxpayers,” he told the Leader. “All salaries over $75,000 are revealed at the end of the year anyway, so if a media outlet or taxpayer wants to know sooner, they should be given that information.

“Forcing people to use the Freedom of Information process just causes delays and expenses as the district will have to meet specific legislated criteria and procedures.

“If privacy rules are a concern, simply have new hires sign a form waiving any right to that confidentiality – I can’t see anyone objecting as their salaries must be disclosed anyway at the end of the year,” Bateman said.

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