UPDATED: District of Carleton North plagued by ongoing staffing challenges; former CAO disputes mayor’s comments

by | Nov 15, 2023

(With files from Jim Dumville, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter)

Council plans strategic review after CAO resignation comes six weeks after hire

Since the provincial reform amalgamation in January 2023, the District of Carleton North has seen several staff turnovers, including the recent resignation of newly hired CAO Sean Lockhart.

In June 2023, District residents were shocked by the termination of CAO Sarah Pacey and Director of Tourism and Recreation Bobbie O’Donnell, effective immediately. Soon after, Michelle Derrah resigned as town clerk/administrative manager.  

For now, the difficulties are continuing. At the Oct. 24 council meeting, Mayor Andrew Harvey briefly mentioned the District was experiencing “ongoing staffing challenges.” 

Harvey later confirmed the resignation of CAO Sean Lockhart after only six weeks on the job. 

When asked what prompted the resignation, Harvey cited working conditions. 

“We had some challenges with relationships between him and the staff, specifically, how he treated the staff,” said Harvey. 

Harvey noted that the challenges were due to Lockart’s managing style rather than his performance. 

“He was new to municipal government,” said Harvey, “and he didn’t want to continue. It’s unfortunate, but those things happen.”

Lockhart disputed the mayor’s description of the circumstances surrounding his resignation. 

He said the problem wasn’t a staffing issue but the mayor’s and some councillors’ refusal to allow the CAO and staff to do their jobs. 

“The staff are awesome,” said Lockhart. 

He said the micromanaging by Harvey and some councillors interfered with the District’s day-to-day operations. 

Lockhart said Harvey was in his town hall office daily and encouraged staff to take issues directly to him, where he made decisions without input or knowledge of the CAO. He said that left staff relegated to act upon random decisions by the mayor or council members without administration input or consideration of budget impact. 

“If the mayor wants to be CAO, then be the CAO,” Lockard said. 

The outgoing CAO addressed the issue in his resignation letter. 

“It is the role of the CAO to make decisions and guide DCN (District of Carleton North) and is legislated as such through the ACT,” Lockhart wrote. “If council is going to direct the CAO on all staffing issues, then the role becomes redundant and council is interfering with DCN operations which is not their mandate.”

When tendering his resignation, Lockhart gave five weeks’ notice to take effect Nov. 30. He said he wanted to ensure the completion of specific ongoing operations, including most of the Northern Carleton Civic Centre expansion and the finalization of the 2024 budget. 

Instead, Lockhart said, the mayor and deputy mayor showed up in his office immediately after receiving his resignation letter to terminate his employment immediately. 

Upon discovering the dysfunctional nature of the Carleton North administration, Lockhart said he drew an understanding and appreciation for what Pacey and O’Donnell faced before their dismissal. 

Harvey said the District plans to wait to hire a new CAO. as it determines the future of several other administrative positions. 

Harvey informed the River Valley Sun that the District terminated the Director of Human Resources position.  

He said the council eliminated the position, which had been in place for less than a year, because of “not enough work for a small town,” 

He stated the town would assign some of the position’s duties, including payroll, to other staff members and departments.

When questioned about the currently advertised administrative assistant position, Harvey advised, “This new position was going to happen regardless of the other [staffing] changes.” 

He explained that the administrative assistant would assist with communications and policy development and, in general, help the town clerk, Amy McIntosh.

Harvey said that the council will be holding a strategic planning exercise in mid-November to evaluate the staffing challenges. 

Beyond that, Harvey said they would not replace the position until at least the new year. 

“We’ve had a lot of changes, and we need to take time to really sit back and look at it all.”

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