Town of La Ronge Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Steven Brown is stepping down after less than a year on the job. The northern municipality has yet to advertise to fill the position because town council can’t agree on how to proceed.
Brown said in his resignation letter dated October 28 that he’s leaving to focus on family and his own wellbeing, effective December 3. La Ronge Mayor Colin Ratushniak thanked Brown for “some fantastic contributions” to the municipality. Deputy-mayor Jordan McPhail said Brown provided a “high level of service” to the community and wished him the best in future endeavours.
On Tuesday, the town council was divided on how to move forward with Brown’s resignation. Councillors Joe Hordyski, Viviana Ruiz-Arcand and Ryan Veteri opposed a motion on Brown’s departure, preventing the six-member council from passing the motion. Ministry of Government Relations spokesperson Shaylyn McMahon told the Herald that municipal legislation doesn’t address resignations. “Although there is no legislative requirement for a municipal council to pass a resolution on this matter, they may do so to ensure the matter is recorded in their minutes,” McMahon said.
Councillor Abby Besharah pointed out that Brown’s resignation will be effective regardless of council’s vote not to accept it. She suggested putting out an advertisement immediately to fill the position. “We need to look after the interests of the municipality and understand how the succession is going to happen from here,” Besharah said. “If we don’t have a qualified CAO in the position then we’re not compliant with legislation.” McPhail put a motion forward to advertise to fill the soon-to-be vacant position. Hordyski said he wants to “let it rest” until after an upcoming bi-election. McPhail said council needs to move forward as a “matter of process.”
Ratushniak told the Herald that the split decision leaves him in a tight spot when it comes to next steps — but he’s doing all that he can. He said the hiring process for a replacement can’t get underway until the council comes to an agreement. “A resignation is a resignation. So, as a leader I’m doing research into what we can do as far as recruitment for an acting CAO. For me to sit on my hands would be a huge disservice to our town,” Ratushniak said. “I can assure residents that I’m ready when the council is willing and ready to move forward with a plan.”
The mayor pointed out that it had already been three weeks since Brown submitted his resignation letter. He’s concerned the stalemate could further delay things in light of the upcoming holiday season. “We’re going to be looking at a six-to-twelve month recruitment process and we also have to find an acting CAO that is qualified to come in and make sure that the town continues to run,” Ratushniak said. “There are a lot of compliance issues that we have to make sure that we are following so that we don’t lose out on specific grants and funding — that are necessary for us to keep our operation going. We still have to do garbage pickup and snow removal… The town still has to run whether Steve Brown is here or not.”
Brown left his job as finance director for North Battleford and moved to La Ronge after council selected him for the position in January. Ratushniak said Brown stood out from other candidates for his nine years of senior management experience in Saskatchewan. Brown was already familiar with La Ronge having visited over the years and said he was excited about working with the mayor, council and community.
Municipal consulting company HMC Management administered the town from 2019 up until Brown was hired. Bylaw officer Robbie Bender had filled in for the position after Stephen Conway stepped down in 2018. Brown was finance director for Prince Albert until he was let go in 2018. Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dion praised Brown as a hard worker who “straightened out the books” but said the city wanted to go in a “different direction.” Prior to that Brown worked as finance director for Humboldt and as a senior financial analyst for the provincial government.
Changes to signing authority for the municipality will be discussed at the next council meeting and Ratushniak hopes council will be in agreement by that time. “I can’t really do anything until council directs how we want to move forward. So, at this point, there’s nothing that I can do,” Ratushniak said. “I’m going to be looking to those councillors that were opposed (to Brown’s resignation) and say, ‘Okay, what now?’ I guess at that point the other three councillors will realize that he is actually quitting.”
With Daily Herald files from Peter Lozinski