Chief Administrative Officer of Town of Ponoka Rachel Kunz has been dismissed one year after she was hired for the position.
Town council released Kunz of her contract in a 5-2 vote Tuesday, Oct. 20 during a special meeting in which the CAO’s position was discussed in an in-camera session.
The meeting appears to have been heated because at one point as Coun. Tim Falkiner, who voted against going to in-camera, stormed out of the discussion and returned only to cast his vote, which saw him and Coun. Loanna Gulka opposing the decision to fire the CAO.
Coun. Marc Yaworski made the motion to terminate Kunz’s contract for justifiable cause. It is believed that the decision was made after council found out a borrowing bylaw was needed but had not been drafted prior to the start of the North Bridge replacement and road reallignment project.
Coun. Sandra Lyon was not physically present in the meeting but was able to vote through phone.
For Mayor Rick Bonnett, the decision was not easy. “Anytime you do this, it’s not a fun decision,” he said.
Normally Betty Quinlan, director of corporate services for the Town of Ponoka would have taken over the role of acting CAO; however, Quinlan tendered her immediate resignation the same day Kunz was released. She was not available for comment.
As there was no one to handle the affairs of the town, council appointed Dave McPhee, director of operations as acting CAO for the time being. Bonnett expects some disruption in services during the transition but added there was going to be a disruption anyway while town staff move to their new temporary offices at the old Ponoka Elementary School pink building.
“We do have confidence in our staff that they’ll pull together,” said Bonnett.
This was the second regular meeting that Kunz had missed and it is unclear why she did not attend the special meeting. She was not available for comment.
A press release was sent out Oct. 21, and in it the mayor says council is taking steps to get an interim CAO soon to ensure town staff can function in keeping with the normal business of the town office.
“Our town employees know their jobs well and will carry on with their daily work to serve the town. We thank everyone for their patience and understanding at this time,” said Bonnett in the press release.
Council expects to work with a contracted interim CAO who is available and that decision was set to be made at the Oct. 27 regular meeting. Bonnett said the town has contacted the Alberta Urban Municipalities Association to find someone available.
What’s next for the bylaw
Councillors had trouble finding answers to their questions at the special meeting, which had two agenda items to be discussed: the fire services agreement with Ponoka County and the borrowing bylaw. As there was no CAO or acting CAO to provide an update, council had to discuss what they knew. For the borrowing bylaw, Bonnett said that one is definitely needed before a project begins.
He said Municipal Affairs confirmed the requirement. “We’ll need (Municipal Affairs’) approval at this point in time.”
Bonnett said he is working closely with the ministry and spoke with planners much of last week to keep them apprised of council’s, and the town’s actions. Because construction started prior to a borrowing bylaw being approved — something that falls on administration to bring forward — the ministry will be considering discussions from upcoming public hearings. Council will need to follow the appropriate steps to give residents a chance to speak up.
The proposed bylaw was included in the Oct. 27 town council agenda.
As for the fire services agreement, Bonnett said Ponoka County indicated that Ponoka Fire Chief Jamie Wilkinson does indeed have the opportunity to apply for the position that the county advertised. Whether he applied or not, his position is secure at the town, said Bonnett.
“We emphasized the fact that it’s going to be the chiefs to set this up,” added Yaworski of what the agreement will look like.
***This story was updated Oct. 28 with additional information***