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Council fires County CAO

Merlin Dewing

Merlin Dewing

Prince Edward County’s Chief Administrative Officer was fired today following a special council meeting this afternoon.

Chief Administrative Officer Merlin J. Dewing came to an agreement with council this afternoon, that will result in Dewing’s immediate departure. Dewing took on the role in November 2011. He had served as the CAO at Sioux Lookout since 2005.

“Council agrees with Dewing that his leadership approach no longer aligns with the vision the current council has for the County of Prince Edward,” said Mayor Robert Quaiff. “As a result, council elected to end Dewing’s term as CAO, in accordance with the early termination clause of his contract.

“We are grateful for the contributions Dewing has made during his term,” the mayor added. “His assertive guidance led the County through many difficult, but necessary changes.”

The Chief Administrative Officer is an appointment under the municipal act. This position is the most senior administrative person of the management team and is responsible directly to council for overseeing the day-to-day business affairs of the municipality.

Council, the mayor said, reached a decision that Dewing’s leadership style no longer aligns with council’s preferred corporate administration approach.

“In order for council to maintain focus on our goals and priorities, we have come to a mutual agreement that Dewing’s term as CAO should conclude.”

Council has appointed James Hepburn, Director of Finance, as Acting CAO, allowing municipal operations and projects to move forward while council determines its preferred approach to fill the CAO position.

Arrangements for interim administrative leadership were made through the County’s Acting CAO program, an initiative spearheaded by Dewing.

During his 3½ years as CAO, Dewing led the municipality through a substantial service delivery review and corporate realignment process, streamlining municipal departments and realizing annual savings upwards of $1.1 million in wages and benefits.

A press statement from the County noted Dewing’s dedication to enhancing customer service, improving efficiency and effectiveness of County practices and procedures. “He also invested significantly in employee development and recognition, initiating the municipality’s award-winning Career Development Program with the goal of improving employee attraction and retention,” the statement read.

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  1. Chuck says:

    One can Google and find good things as well. And everything googled and read is not gospel. The new Council may have wanted a change but did they have to lay it so hard on the taxpayer or find a way to manage the situation until the contract was up. Something seems amiss here.

  2. lou says:

    true.

    but we do want someone that does their job.
    He did. tried to restructure. fired people along the way and got fired.
    he fired 2 managers and there is a public report that at least one of those. was putting in time cards consistently for work they did not do.

  3. Wolf Braun says:

    “Far from being a puppet he appears to be a demi-god. That is a little scary.”

    When one googles ‘this’ CAO’s name one finds all kinds of statements from his previous jobs that confirm the above statement. This kind of due-diligence should have been done, and needs to be done, on candidates for the CAO joeb.

  4. Mark says:

    Well with the hope of change with a newly elected Council, we find ourselves adrift with no leader for the municipality! So many good employee’s released or chose to get out. When does this County ever get it’s act together and provide stable, reasoned governance?

  5. Bob says:

    The interpretation of the Municipal Act is key here. What is policy? What is governance? When does operation overlap with governance? What does it mean to be an employee under this model? Can you do exactly as you wish with impunity? What say does the employer have? In such murky waters, would a court favour the employee if fired or employer? Nobody wants to find out, so it is cheaper and cleaner to settle and go separate ways.

  6. Susan says:

    The Municipal Act that Merlin followed defines the roles.

    A good read at the Wellington Times on this debacle, called “Mob Rule”.

  7. Marnie says:

    I agree Bob. There appears to be no clear definition of where the line is drawn. If councillors vote against dismissing an employee it seems dictatorial if the CAO can ignore their wishes. To whom is he responsible? Far from being a puppet he appears to be a demi-god. That is a little scary.

  8. Bob says:

    I keep seeing comments about Council wanting the CAO to be a “puppet” and separating Council role from admin role. However, if the CAO is the employee of the Council, does the employer not have any say in what is done and how it is done? It seems to me that the strict separation of these roles is a tiresome argument that CAOs use to control their employer. It becomes a convenient way of getting out of the job when tired of it, with a payout bonus to boot. I have yet to see anyone attempt to define where the line is drawn between governance and operations. Particularly in municipalities where council is the people’s government, the line is pretty murky.

  9. Emily says:

    I see, sorry Marnie. Employee discipline is an administration function as it is their role, not Council’s. If it was Council’s you wouldn’t require a CAO or managers. This has all the signs of a power struggle mixed with politics. I still would like to know if a councilor sent an email to County employee’s saying “who’s next”. If true that is a serious contravention.

  10. Marnie says:

    I was not referring to Merlin’s termination. I was referring to one newspaper report that Merlin wanted a county employee dismissed while council did not agree with his decision.

  11. Emily says:

    If? It was a termination. Of course they have a voice and decision making powers in regards to the CAO’s employment. We just expect better decision making, fewer power struggles and better use of hundreds of thousands of taxpayers dollars. Now what do they do?

  12. Marnie says:

    When it comes to a decision regarding termination of a county employee, if indeed this is what happened, then council should have a voice. The CAO’s input deserves every consideration but if the ultimate decision is his then council really does not have any real authority.

  13. Argyle says:

    Mayor Mertens………Merlin is his legacy……..

  14. Doris Lane says:

    With all the good stuff??? being reported in the papers about our wonderful by out. The only thing I know for certain is that my tax bill went up and so did my water/sewer bill.
    The ratepayers in Picton are getting hit hard, maybe some of the wasted payout money could have been used to pay down the sewer debt if council had of been mre diligent in hiring a CAO in the first place
    Please council stop wasting our money

  15. Emily says:

    There is a huge difference in governance and providing direction to the CAO from interfering in the day to day administration of employee’s. Council has stepped beyond it’s role. Snowman makes an interesting point. The Commisioner stated there was absolutely no fat left in the budget. So where did the $400k come from? Where did the $$ come from to fire the two top managers at McFarland? In October Mayor Mertens in a departure speech proudly stated that Prince Edward had a top notch management team! Hmmmm!

  16. Argyle says:

    With all the sunshine these days at Shire Hall, probably passing the hat among council and the county managers would have raised two grand easy for the girls hockey team…….sure seems this council is in over its head.

  17. Marnie says:

    Why bother electing a council at all if the CAO is to call all the shots? Does council have no right to give this person direction?

  18. Snowman says:

    19 months left on the contract.He was paid $18,500 per month. He wouldn’t sign a 2 yr. deal if it didn’t have a full pay out in event of a dismissal- $351,500.00 in this case. Probably a clause in there giving him a little bonus for leaving quietly because of a Council member taking a hissy fit.

    They couldn’t find $2000.00 anywhere in the budget, to support a high school girls hockey team at a Provincial Championship.
    He and his Council just found $400,000.00 + from somewhere in about 48 hrs!
    How the two ring leaders in this story get re-elected with their record of waste and mismanagement is a mystery.

  19. Emily says:

    There have been many calls to Council. Unfortunately we can’t get our CAO back and we can’t get the taxpayers dollars back for the buyout. This smells of a power struggle in small town politics. This Council wants a yes man at the head to push whatever agenda and at whatever cost. So disappointing.

  20. Looking forward says:

    Just wondering “have any of you called Mayor Quaiff?” He actually does answer, I know fish for a fact!!

  21. Bob says:

    You can’t expect the Council to reveal the amount of the settlement. It is confidential personal information. They just did not see eye to eye. Accept it.

  22. MI says:

    Ok everyone. So this little power struggle is going to cost US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars. Robert, how about you show us some respect and tell us the deal you made with him to exit? He is a contract employee and I believe this information must be available to the public. When we know this, perhaps we see who else needs to resign.I am thinking that there are several people responsible for this debacle that were also on the previous council. I say, if this is a $400 or $500 thousand dollar expense to the County, I want to see anyone who drove this deal through, to resign.
    We cannot afford incompetence of this magnitude to continue. So Robert, what was the price???

  23. Bob says:

    Highly unlikely that any Council would casually pay out hundreds of thousands to someone just to go away over a one time power struggle. They are tax payers too.

  24. Chuck says:

    What a crock. Council plays with our tax dollars like it is chump change. Council made the deal with Merlin and could have found a way to make things work for a year! So they shove a bean counter into the position and lay the huge payout on our backs. That could have fixed Talbot street and East Main is so bad you can hardly get to the beer store! Lol. But it is the County isn’t it? And if a Councilor sent out an e-mail to County employees as reported by the Times they should be severely censored.

  25. Susan says:

    I think it is worthy of much more discussion. Why probably in the neighborhood of $300,000 taxpayers dollars were found necessary to use to terminate. And if councilors were communicating directly with employees during this process.

  26. Looking forward says:

    Another topic PLEASE! Merlin has had enough of my time!

  27. Susan says:

    Can anyone confirm if a councilor sent an e-mail to County employees saying “who’s next”?

  28. Marnie says:

    Don’t watch TV Marie. Their moderator lets a lot worse slip by and forget about renting a DVD. The censors let almost anything pass these days.

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