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Top staffer offered $300,000 to leave amid North Saanich turmoil

The departure comes amid ongoing turmoil over an official community plan that will lay out guidelines for if and how the largely rural district will develop
North Saanich Municipal Hall on Mills Road in North Saanich. DARREN STONE, TIMES COLONIST

North Saanich’s departing chief ­administrative officer was offered about $300,000 to leave his position in the latest battle over the future of the municipality, driven by disagreements about the official community plan.

The district announced the ­resignation of top staffer Tim Tanton on Monday, saying he “has decided to ­conclude his employment with the ­District of North Saanich to pursue other opportunities.” Tanton’s ­resignation was effective Thursday.

Mayor Peter Jones said councillors voted at an in-camera meeting to make the financial offer to Tanton because of

“differences of opinion” over the official community plan. “Everything seems to revolve around the OCP,” he said.

The battle over the official community plan has been fought between those determined to keep the community rural, and those who want to see some modest development. Much of the disagreement has revolved around how community consultation was conducted.

The previous council had brought in Vancouver-based Modus Planning, Design and Engagement as a consultant on the OCP revision, but the company requested termination of its contract with the district in February over concerns about the new mayor and council’s approach to gathering public feedback. The district had paid about $400,000 to Modus for their work.

Modus had said the mayor’s advisory committee on the issue was comprised of council members and individuals who appeared to represent only one side of the issue.

Tanton was interested in continuing with the model proposed by consultant Modus, while a majority of council wants to take a different approach, said Jones, whose candidacy as mayor was backed by a group that wants to keep the district rural, called Save North Saanich.

“With a new council coming in, there was a change of direction from last council. And council felt it was in the best interest of the residents and moving forward that we look to a new CAO,” Jones said.

Former councillor Brett Smyth resigned his seat in late March after clashing with Jones over the OCP process during a council meeting.

Two other staffers have left for other positions since the current council was elected in October, Jones said. Neither was offered a financial incentive to resign, he said.

North Saanich resident Warren Wolfe has counted four staff members whose work was related to the OCP who have left the district since the new council was elected in October.

Wolfe, who has lived in North Saanich for the past five years, said he worries the loss of senior staff members will have a detrimental effect on the functioning of the district.

“I am quite concerned that there is an effort to stymie the whole OCP review process. I mean, it has cost over $400,000. And it appears that we’re getting nothing in return for it,” he said.

Jones said it’s not that unusual for a new council to seek a new direction and a new CAO to implement it.

In 2021, Saanich parted ways with CAO Paul Thorkelsson, who was eligible for a severance of close to $580,000, according to details obtained via a freedom of information request. Then-mayor Fred Haynes said at the time that council had decided to change leadership.

In 2014, then newly elected Saanich mayor Richard Atwell forced out CAO Paul Murray, costing the municipality $480,000.

John Treleaven, chair of the Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria, said “it disturbs me a great deal” that some mayors and councils treat CAOs as political appointees.

“When will the taxpayer see the benefit of that extremely expensive decision?” he said.

Stephanie Munro, North Saanich’s director of financial services, will serve as acting CAO until a permanent replacement has been named.

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