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New CAO for Norfolk County will be council decision

Public input will not factor into Norfolk council’s quest to hire a new county CAO.

During a special council meeting on April 28, Port Dover Coun. Amy Martin and Delhi Coun. Mike Columbus asked about the advisability of a wide-ranging public consultation.

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“I would like to see a broad stakeholder engagement,” Martin said during the meeting, which was held by video-conference.

“I would be leaning toward the mayor, all of council, senior staff as well as community stakeholder groups. I think a lot of the community will be very invested in this next candidate we bring in.”

Columbus was curious to know how he should engage constituents given that there are individuals and groups with a history of negative commentary toward the county on social media. He cited as an example the Facebook group Concerned Residents of Norfolk.

Jon Stungevicius, a recruiter with Waterhouse Executive Search, advised against a formal process of public consultation, saying it was unnecessary.

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“I would like to think the mayor and council are elected to represent the needs of the community to start with,” Stungevicius said. “We’re not looking to re-invent the wheel here.”

Mayor Kristal Chopp is also leery of throwing the floor open to proposals. The county can’t talk to everyone, the mayor said, adding groups not consulted will feel excluded.

Port Rowan Coun. Tom Masschaele added no one is better situated to comment on the replacement of CAO Jason Burgess than council and senior staff.

“In the end, this person is someone we have to work with every day,” Masschaele said. “I wouldn’t want to be in a position where part of our decision was influenced by a group that has no real bearing on our relationship with this person.”

Burgess announced in April that he is leaving Norfolk County at the end of July to take on the role of CAO in the City of Niagara Falls.

Burgess, a certified accountant, was hired on contract as general manager of corporate and financial services nearly two years ago. He became Norfolk’s full-time CAO in the spring of 2020.

In announcing his resignation, Burgess said his time in Norfolk was meant to be short because the municipality needed a turnaround specialist willing to make unpopular recommendations regarding the county’s finances. His work finished, Burgess added it was time to turn the reins over to a replacement who will continue nursing Norfolk back to financial and organizational health.

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Port Ryerse Coun. Chris VanPaassen said this is the kind of candidate he’s looking for.

“A couple years ago, we came on this council and found no one was steering the ship; that it was headed for the rocks and was going to crash,” he said. “Now – over the last two years – we have turned the ship around and we have a great team in place. We just need someone who can hold that tiller steady for a little while longer.

“We’ve got the ship headed the right way and we just need someone who can run her steady. We want someone who gets the work done behind the scene and just keeps going the way we’re going.”

A timetable for the process ahead was laid out on April 28. Council hopes to have a long list of candidates – perhaps as many as 20 – by the end of May. Council would also like to confirm Burgess’s replacement by the end of June.

The successful candidate will be the sixth CAO to serve Norfolk County since this council was elected in the fall of 2018.

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