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Colwood dismisses top administrator after 11 months

Colwood is once again without a chief administrator after terminating James Moller from the position.
Colwood municipal hall photo generic

Colwood is once again without a chief administrator after terminating James Moller from the position.

Mayor Carol Hamilton said Moller, who was in the job for 11 months, was dismissed without cause, meaning he is entitled to severance and vacation pay.

The base salary for the chief administrative officer position was $157,667, according to Colwood. However Moller’s specific salary is not yet public, since the 2014 statement of financial information has not been released. Moller said he was paid $155,000.

While the municipality says he is entitled to three months of severance pay, Moller’s lawyer, Kathleen Birney, believes he is entitled to six months’ pay.

The process began in January, when council asked Moller to attend a meeting to address Moller’s apparent unhappiness in his position, Hamilton said.

Moller said he requested the meeting with Hamilton, in a confidential text, but another councillor joined them. He said he was told he was unsuitable and should take administrative leave.

Moller said he later declined to attend a hearing by council, which is part of severance protocol, because he believed council had already made up its mind.

“As he didn’t have the discussion with council, there was no way for council to go forward other than to give him freedom to also move forward,” Hamilton said.

Moller is concerned because he has not received his final paycheque, Birney said, which should include payments such as vacation pay owed to him. She said the municipality has asked for a release and indemnity, which would prevent Moller from bringing a legal claim against the city. Hamilton called it standard protocol.

“Basically, they’re holding his last paycheque for ransom,” Birney said.

Birney said Moller could potentially claim wrongful dismissal, file a human rights complaint or claim a breach of the Employment Standards Act.

“Basically, he gives up a good job in Saskatchewan and moves all the way out here with his family, where they seem to be switching CAOs like musical chairs,” Birney said. “Nobody seems to stay very long. Maybe the voters in Colwood should ask themselves why the city can’t keep a CAO.”

Moller is the third chief administrative officer in four years. Chris Pease retired in 2011, having joined the municipality in 2006. Ross McPhee served from 2011 to 2012. Pease filled in again from 2013 to 2014, until Moller was hired in February 2014.

“It’s easy to make those outside comments,” Hamilton said in response to Birney’s remarks, adding that it is not unusual for chief administrative officers to move around. Pease retired, she said, while McPhee left on “amicable” terms following a personnel issue.

Colwood will look for an interim chief administrative officer in the next month or so, to fill a three- to six-month contract, before posting a full-time position.

“[Moller’s] parting was in many way an understanding that we were not on the same page,” Hamilton said. “We wish him well.”