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Fort Smith's top administrator fired
Brenda Black is seeking legal advice about her dismissal

Paul Bickford
Northern News Services
Published Monday, June 11, 2012

Brenda Black has lost her job as senior administrative officer (SAO) with the Town of Fort Smith.

A June 6 news release from the town announced Black's employment had been terminated as of that date.

She had been SAO since February of last year.

The news release stated Black's management style did not match council's visions, values and goals.

Mayor Janie Hobart said she could not go into detail because it is a personnel issue.

"It is the policy of the town that personnel matters are considered confidential," Hobart said.

Council made the decision to dismiss Black at a meeting on June 5. Hobart said council endeavours to provide an open, transparent and effective government; operate in a fiscally responsible manner; and be a responsible employer.

"Those are some of the goals that the town council has set for itself and many of the things that fall into that area have not been completed," she said.

Hobart said the dismissal is unrelated to charges laid against Black last year in Ontario.

In September, she was charged with fraud under $5,000 and breach of trust from her time as chief administrative officer with the Township of Georgian Bay.

It is expected to be a matter of days until an acting SAO is named in Fort Smith, since council was meeting with possible candidates last week.

Hobart anticipates the hiring of a SAO will take at least two months.

"It's important to find the right person for the position," she said. "They're very demanding positions and it's often difficult to find the right match."

Hobart does not anticipate any interruption of service to the community as a result of the change. "While there will probably be a state of flux, we don't anticipate that the public will be inconvenienced as a result of this."

Black said she was in "total shock" when handed a letter on June 6 giving her the choice of resigning or being terminated.

She recalled that morning she was training an employee when her computer password quit working.

"Within a few minutes of that, I was called in to the mayor's office, told that I had the opportunity to resign or I could be terminated without cause, and what did I want to do," she said. "I was totally stunned because the only communication I've had relative to performance has been one performance appraisal, a letter confirming my probation period had ended, and that is it until this letter."

Black said she is seeking legal advice over her dismissal.

However, her understanding is an employer can terminate any employee at any time.

She was given three months pay, plus an adjustment for moving expenses.

As for the town's statement she was terminated because of her management style, Black said, "I have no idea what that means."

Black said the letter she received stated she was being terminated without cause, she said. "That means there isn't a reason."

Black also questions the process in which council voted to terminate her employment.

She noted it was done during an in-camera session at a meeting of the corporate services and human resources standing committee, not a regularly scheduled council meeting. She doesn't believe the meeting was properly constituted to make such a decision, since not all councillors are part of the standing committee.

The ousted SAO is not sure what her future holds, noting she bought a house in Fort Smith and loves the community.

"I had no expectation this was coming whatsoever," she said of her dismissal.

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