Dozens of employees have left the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, which includes Fort McMurray, costing the municipality $7.3 million in severance and salary continuances, documents obtained by the Canadian Taxpayers Federation show.
The documents, obtained through freedom of information, show at least 68 employees left the municipality between 2011 and 2013.
Of those, 24 employees were paid more than $100,000, including three employees who each received between $321,000 and $355,000.
It is not known why so many of the municipality’s employees left or whether the severance amounts paid to individual staff are extraordinary. Wood Buffalo Mayor Melissa Blake did not respond to interview requests from CBC News.
Canadian Taxpayers Federation (CTF) spokesman Derek Fildebrandt said taxpayers deserve answers.
"Fort McMurray kind of is the wild west,” Fildebrandt said. “There is a lot of money, a lot of people coming in and out. But I think people still expect that the government is not going to be the wild west, that the government is going to have a degree of order to it, that it is going to follow basic rules of money management and human resource practices.”
Fildebrandt said the CTF also obtained a number of termination agreements, which reveal a troubling pattern of secrecy within the municipality.
"When we look through the termination agreements here, there are so many people who have been let go without cause, but who have been forced to sign non-disclosure agreements – essentially, hush money – in exchange for their severance packages,” Fildebrandt said.
“We want to know why that is taking place here,” he said, adding, “this sets off so many alarm bells at this point."
Last week, the municipality’s chief administrative officer, Glen Laubenstein, abruptly resigned his job, which paid total compensation of more than $500,000 a year. Several other senior employees also left the municipality.
The municipality has ordered an outside audit of expenses paid to the senior executives.
The audit will also review fees totalling more than $1 million paid to consultant Ron Taylor, who was hired as a consultant for Fort McMurray’s $2-billion city-centre redevelopment project. Taylor is no longer working on the project.