Ottawa

Hiring guidelines proposed in wake of Chiarelli allegations

Ottawa city councillors could get extra training and new tools to help them hire their political staffers, after allegations last fall against Coun. Rick Chiarelli triggered a review of recruitment methods at city hall.

City clerk recommends mandatory training for new councillors, orientation for assistants

A group including employees of Ottawa city councillors holds a silent protest outside council chambers on Nov. 6, 2019. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

Latest

  • City council approved the report at their July 15 meeting with some changes.
  • It approved motions to require someone from HR or the clerk's office be present at interviews.
  • Interviews are to be held at city facilities and councillor assistants will get an HR contact.

Ottawa city councillors could get extra training and new tools to help them hire their political staffers, after allegations last fall against Coun. Rick Chiarelli triggered a review of recruitment methods at city hall.

On the whole, however, consultant Samson & Associates found "no systemic problem in the recruitment and hiring process for councillors' assistants."

Last fall, women who worked for or had been interviewed by Chiarelli told CBC News they were asked inappropriate questions, such as whether they were willing to wear revealing clothing.

The allegations, which Chiarelli has denied, sparked discussion about the relationship between councillors and their office staff. Elected officials have a great deal of autonomy in the way they manage their offices, with practices and pay differing from one councillor to the next.

Interviewing alone

In a report going to the finance and economic development committee on July 7, city clerk Rick O'Connor recommends:

  • Developing a recruitment toolkit for councillors, including job templates and standardized interview questions.
  • Mandatory hiring and recruitment training for incoming councillors as part of their orientation.
  • Mandatory orientation sessions for new political hires, so they know their rights and about available support.
  • Mandatory training in gender equity, diversity and harassment for all councillors and their staff.
  • Voluntary exit interviews.

Stéphane Emard-Chabot, a University of Ottawa law professor and legal counsel for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, was asked for his advice by the consultant, and underscored the importance of having a third person in the room during job interviews.

He's disappointed that suggestion didn't make it into the final list of recommendations.

"In 2020, in human resources, that is just not done. You don't sit down alone with a candidate," said Emard-Chabot.

Allowing latitude

In general, Emard-Chabot believes the clerk did a good job at balancing the need for some standardized procedures with the need to give councillors some latitude in how they choose the right candidate for the unusual job of political staffer.

"You need someone who's going to be loyal to you and protect you as a politician," said Emard-Chabot, who was an Ottawa city councillor in the 1990s.

Stéphane Emard-Chabot, a University of Ottawa law professor and legal counsel for the Federation of Canadian Municipalities, recommended having a third person in the room during job interviews. (CBC)

The consultants also interviewed councillors and their assistants in January, and found most felt the current process works well, but isn't perfect.

Seventeen of the 23 councillors who took part described a wide range of techniques they used to hire staffers, from using personal networks and social media to enlisting the city's human resources department. One told the consultants, "It's cowboy country," apparently referring to the lack of clear rules.

Of 90 councillors' assistants, only 26 volunteered to be interviewed, the report notes.

In their anonymous comments, one said the problem is less about recruitment and more about a power imbalance once hired. "Employees, they can be fired without cause. Job security is non-existent," the staffer said.

This review was limited to hiring practices, however, and wasn't intended to delve into such issues as pay, job security or unionization. The city clerk said he has documented those concerns and could revisit them during council's periodic reviews of its governance policies. 

City council will deal with this report on hiring practices on July 15.

As for the integrity commissioner's investigation into the allegations against Chiarelli, it's possible Robert Marleau will present his findings to council that same day.

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