Chief administrative officer in Colwood might be on way out

Colwood’s chief administrative officer may become the latest in a string to be turfed, resign or retire from the job.

James Moller, who took the position in February 2014, is on paid administrative leave and looking for a new position. He is Colwood’s third CAO in four years.

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Moller said he was called by council to a meeting regarding his performance, but said he is not sure why.

“It’s a very difficult situation. I guess I underestimated the professionalism of the organization and governance,” he told the Times Colonist.

“I successfully passed probation at the end of November. Now I’ve been told I’m unsuitable.”

Moller moved to Colwood from Saskatchewan for the job.

“I would have been very happy today if I had stayed. I was very well respected and accomplished quite a bit there, so it’s a disappointment.”

Although he is still employed by the city, he said he is looking for a new job and hopes this experience doesn’t damage his reputation in Greater Victoria.

He said he could not comment further, due to potential litigation.

Mayor Carol Hamilton said Moller has not been dismissed, only asked to attend a meeting with council to review some concerns relating to a performance evaluation.

That meeting has yet to take place.

“Council has to officially ask their officers to appear before them, when there is a matter of great concern. That is all that had taken place,” she said.

Hamilton could not comment on the specifics of the concerns.

She said Moller was taken off probation because he requested it, but that high-profile positions such as his commonly have longer performance-evaluation periods.

Moller replaced Chris Pease as CAO in 2014. Pease, who held the position from 2006 to 2010 before retiring, returned to the job when his replacement, Ross McPhee, left in 2012.

At the time, Hamilton said McPhee’s departure was “amicable” and a mutual decision. “Sometimes you fit and sometimes you don’t,” she said.

Hamilton would not say what Moller’s salary is, and Colwood has not released its statement of financial information for 2014. Pease received $119,567 in 2013, while McPhee was paid $150,749 in 2012 and $142,273 in 2011.

Michael Prince, Lansdowne professor of social policy at the University of Victoria, said three CAOs in four years is a high turnover rate.

“It would seem a bit worrisome, on the face of it,” he said, pointing to a lack of continuity on long-term issues like official community planning, sewage and amalgamation.

Turnover comes for many reasons, he said, including a shift in dynamic when a new council is elected, personality clashes and new opportunities opening up.

A new council was elected Nov. 15 and took office in December.

As the conduit between the political and the professional public service sides of a municipality, CAOs serve a difficult role, Prince said.

When he describes the role to his students, he tells them to imagine two pyramids pushing together at their points.

“All the expectation and pressure points from both sides get channelled through this one individual,” he said. “It’s a high-profile and high-pressure job.”

asmart@timescolonist.com

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