Woolwich goes outside township, country to fill new position
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Woolwich goes outside township, country to fill new position

A new Woolwich staff position pushed for by Todd Cowan has been filled by a young woman with no local government experience, but known to the mayor. On Apr. 26, Saskia Koning, a South African citizen who was in Canada on a work visa, began her job as an executive assistant. She was selected from more than a hundred applicants to fill the three-year contract position that pays almost $50,000 a year, plus a generous complement of benefits that add another 30 per cent to the cost.

The job involves providing administrative support to the mayor and council, along with some communications functions, such as writing press releases. Its creation was approved by council earlier this year.
Of the large number of applicants, the mayor and CAO told the newspaper she was the most qualified.

Saskia Koning has been hired as the new executive assistant to Woolwich Mayor Todd Cowan and council.

Questioned about the hire, chief administrative officer David Brenneman said privacy laws prevented him from discussing specific details of  her employment and the necessary federal government paperwork.

“What I can reiterate though is that the Township of Woolwich as a corporation follows and did follow a standard and legal recruitment process, the contract employee Saskia Koning is legally permitted to work in Canada, and further that the township is in compliance with applicable Canadian law and will continue to meet said obligations.”

In order to take the job and remain in the country prior to the imminent expiry of her previous work permit, she would need clearance from Immigration Canada based on a labour market opinion (LMO) from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada, according to HRSDC.

“Businesses must recruit Canadians before hiring temporary foreign workers. When all reasonable efforts to hire domestically are unable to meet acute short-term labour market needs, eligible employers can seek an LMO to hire temporary foreign workers,” explained HRSDC spokesperson Lisa King.

“A number of factors are taken into consideration by HRSDC/Service Canada as part of the LMO application process, including whether the temporary foreign worker is likely to fill a labour shortage as well as the efforts the employer made to recruit and train Canadians or permanent residents.”

King added the department was unable to discuss a specific employer or employee, directing questions about citizenship issues to Immigration Canada, which hadn’t replied to specific inquiries prior to press time.

The new position was approved in February as part of the 2012 budget. A subsequent job posting solicited applications until Mar. 23. The LMO process outlined by HRSDC typically takes two to three months, after which a work permit could be issued by Immigration Canada. Koning was on the job Apr. 26.

Brenneman said he couldn’t discuss if the township went through the LMO process, citing privacy issues.

“I’m not aware of any concerns that would prevent her from working.”

He stressed, however, that the hiring followed standard procedure.

The mayor was involved in the hiring process, but the township has no policy about hiring friends of current staff or council members. In keeping with provincial rules, Woolwich does have a nepotism policy governing the employment of family members, said Brenneman.

Cowan, acknowledging a friendship with the young woman, said her hiring was “happenstance,” noting he had been approached by others also interested in the job.

“I think there were 116 or 120 résumés, so before they even got to the interview stage they were vetted by the HR person and, I think, David (Brenneman). There was a screening process. When it got to me, there was only two people that I had actually talked to before,” he said.

“We follow an open and transparent process, and that’s what was done here.”

He dismissed concerns the job went to a young,  non-Canadian, saying the $43,000 to $53,000 pay range essentially made it an entry-level position that qualified candidates would not have applied for.

“That’s not an issue. I feel the process was open,” he said of Koning’s citizenship. “We were just looking for the right person at the right pay, because we know that we weren’t paying the big dollars.”

At almost $50,000 plus full benefits, however, the position pays about 50 per cent above private-sector averages for administrative assistance jobs – about $35,000 – and much more than entry-level offerings, which run closer to $25,000. Executive assistants, with more experience and responsibility, can earn closer to the range offered by the township, according to figures available from federal employment websites.

Citing his own experience, including time at Queen’s Park, Cowan noted executive assistants can earn more than $100,000.

“I used to be an EA in the private sector and I made considerably more than this, so it’s an entry level,” he said of the newly-created position. “Anybody hiring to do what (Koning) was hired to do would be making $75,000.”
Brenneman declined to discuss whether the township even considered lowering the pay scale for someone with little experience, sticking instead to the $43,000-$53,000 range.

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26 comments
  1. I would like to thank Steve Kannon for the insightful article on Cohen’s new hire.Not only am I shocked at the wages Woolwich employees seem to vote themselves in but the ability to hire who they want without any oversite. When I voted for Mr. Cohen I thought there would be some transparancy in his decision making but like many community members I feel duped.Keep up the good work Mr. Kannon!

  2. We all welcome Ms. Koning to the community, but that is not the issue. In the article it states ” but known to the mayor”
    I believe this is the issue. Can our elected and appointed officials hire anyone they like? Or does a position have to be created?

  3. Wow!! What a biased piece of writing. I feel that Ms Koning deserves a much better reception to our community.
    Did Mr. Kannon interview her? Is he this hard up to create rifts in our community?
    Disappointngly shallow thinking Steve!

  4. In regards to Doug Mcgee, this article is completely “shameful treatment”. Steve Kannon states that she has no experience yet does not substantiate that with any evidence as to how he knows this. Did he see her cover letter and resume?? Was he present at the interview?? The only thing he is basing these claims on is the fact that she is here on a work visa and a picture of her. So he’s assuming because she’s a young female from Africa that their is no way that she was the most qualified for this position. Give me a break! That is completely discriminatory and sexist! Just the kind of news stories I want to read in my local paper!

  5. I am very disappointed with Todd. He has taken control of the township like a little dictator. He has been spending money like our provincial government….right he came from Queens Park. So he familiar with spending other people’s hard earned money and when he doesn’t have enough he raises the taxes!! We haven’t had this position before why now?? Is he really that busy that he needs someone to relieve his work load…then maybe half of his salary could pay for this new position.
    I have no bad comments to the young lady, but I have a problem with Todd hiring a friend. Come on, not one of the other 100-120 applicants had enough experience??? But this young lady has more then anyone else…sure Todd.
    Can’t wait till the next election!!!!

  6. It is unfortunate that so many people that have written in commenting on this article, have missed the mark. In my opinion Mr.Kannon has clearly stating the facts, that the newly hired executive assistant to the mayor and council is being paid $20,000 to $25,000 more than other entry level positons like this at Woolwich Township, especially for an inexperienced executive position.
    The mayor and councillors all campaigned on fiscal responsibility and complete transparency and accountability. It appears for now, that there is no accountability, as this person was hired at double the going rate. The fact as to where this person comes from is irrelevant, and if all readers reread the article, they will find that Mr. Kannon did not comment on this, he only reported what Woolwich staff stated. But as to where this person comes from, it could become an issue, if in 3 months her work permit does not get renewed by Immigration Canada. Whom I hear will have to validate that there was no other qualified Canadian to do the job.Then council is back to square one. This could be a possibility.
    I also agree with Doug Mcgee’s comment, if you are going to offer your heart felt opinion publicly put your real name on it, Mr Kannon has. Only cowards hide behind initials or stage names.
    Again I hope that when the great charities of Woolwih Township ask council for money, they are not turned away.

  7. Sure Mr. Kannon did not mis-quote anyone but he certainly presented this information with an angle. If he had contacted Ms. Koning and learned what the interview process was like and what her credentials and intentions are, there maybe no story here at all.

  8. I along with several others wrote a comment earlier expressing concerns about this situation. The majority of those collective comments expressed an issue with the people doing the hiring more so than the person hired. That is not ‘shameful’ treatment. Now some extremely personal attacks against the author are coming in, the majority by people who don’t want to give a real name. I have not heard as of yet a example of where he has misquoted or misrepresented someone in this article. Mr Kannon puts his name beside his article, unlike many in this forum. I doubt many of these submissions are actually by anyone who regularly reads the Observer. He goes after Harper more than anyone, he would be vilified by FOX, not supported. The role of the media is not to wave pom poms around. If you want that, read PRAVDA.

  9. It is very clear from this article that Mr Steve Kannon has aspirations for Fox News and the National Enguirer. He has stirred up a hornet’s nest of disbelief, that we would treat a potential immigrant to Canada so poorly. Sure, she’s known to the mayor, but not as much as she is known to us. We have been involved with this talented woman for almost 2 years. Her training and her world experience put her way above the quality of this article. We also know that some of the personal information and photo were not authorized by Ms Koning.
    Mr Kannon should check his aim before he shoots off his literary CANNON again. Should I be worried, as I am “known to the mayor” as well? Who next gets the smear brush?

  10. Dear Author of this article,

    Don’t be jealous because you work for a newspaper that people only read because its free, lack talent, and nobody likes you. Things will look up, and life will get better! Please check out this website :
    http://kidshealth.org/kid/feeling/emotion/self_esteem.html

    It should help you with your self-esteem issues, so that you don’t feel the need to bully new residents of our town, who unlike yourself are talented and well liked. I wish you all the best on your quest to become a worthwhile member of our community.

    Sincerly,
    Someone who lives and works in Elmira

  11. According to the CBC about 2.8 Million Canadians live and work abroad. I seriously hope that not a single one of these people are facing the discrimination and bigotry that this young woman is. You should be ashamed of yourself Woolwich Observer!!

  12. Since when did the observer start writing hit pieces? Objective Journalism Level – Fox News.

  13. Wow Steve Kannon you’re so talented you should be writing for the National Enquirer! This article is a joke, did The Observer really send this to Press??

  14. I feel utterly ashamed that the observer would publish such a one-sided story. What a sorry picture you’re painting of the good people of this town, close minded and discriminatory. I have a feeling this article would not have been published had the succesful applicant been male or perhaps, not so attractive. This article borderlines sexism and racism. Are we not a community that welcomes new members of the community with warmth? Lets flip this a bit….Ms. Koning could have chosen any city to settle down in, but she chose Elmira because she was drawn to it, valued it’s beliefs and felt the strong sense of community here and thought to herself “this is where I want to work.” Perhaps Ms. Koning will bring a new outlook and new energy to the township. This article disgusts me and the author of it should do some serious reflecting on what this article says of his character. The Township is so much better than this article.

  15. As someone who knows Ms. Koning I have to say she has been working her butt off to establish her self here in Canada. I think it is appalling that those of you, who do not know her, or what she has been accomplishing since getting to Canada, feel like you have the right to determine her skills and abilities to do this position. Unless you read her resume or where in the interview you have no right to judge her. For the journalist that put her picture in the paper, uncalled for, that is such a great way to make her feel welcome in a new community by plastering her picture in the local newspaper with only negative comments. This article could have been written without her picture!

  16. How about all the other 119 applicants that weren’t selected for the job, slap their face all over the Observer. Lets see how they feel when people tear them apart, because others are jealous they didn’t get the job. Some comments are just sickening to read, I’m appalled to be reading this in a small town paper. As a life long member of the community, I believe that we are about due for some change. I think Mrs. Koning will bring some good to our township. I hope everyone can see the good in this and let’s give her a chance.

  17. I read this story in almost disbelief. But If I lived in Woolwich Township I would be outraged. The township staff claim that they followed an ‘open and transparent’ process in selecting the candidate. Perhaps they should have used a process that involved common sense also.

  18. Very dissapointed in the observer. That is a horrible way to paint a picture of someone trying to establishing themself in a small town.

    Observer just went down 3 notches in my books

  19. As a life long resident of Elmira, I find this article completely disgusting! I personally believe that we should be welcoming to new members of the community, not writing scandal pieces in the paper about them. This young woman worked hard, interviewed well and got a good job. Congrats to her! Seems like sour grapes from Steve Kannon, who by the way lives in Kitchener, not in Elmira. Mrs. Koning does in fact live in the township!! To all the people complaining about how the job should go to a Canadian, don’t blame Mrs. Koning or even the municipal goverment, blame the federal government as they determine who is able to live and work in this Country! I’m just glad the township is hiring the people best able to serve the community and our needs, no matter where their were born!

  20. I think it needs to be taken into consideration how many people get jobs based on networking and the connections they have. The business world is set up so that those who network and make an effort to get involved in the communities they live and work exceed far more than their peers. Has anyone taken into consideration that she maybe trying to start her life here in Canada and has spend the time required to get to know members of the community, attended networking events, and participated in volunteer opportunities. I think the way this has been brought to light is quite shameful, there was no need for a personal attack on this girl, if people are unhappy with the results it should be the township that is in question not her…disappointing!

  21. As a person who applied for this position, along with more then 120 others, I’m shocked to read that they were unable to locate a local resident for this position.
    At any given company a person filling the position of assistant would be overjoyed to receive the wage of $40,000. Typically the salary is much less and requiring more experience and skills!
    Also I’m concerned about the number of positions that this “new” council has added. The council was voted in to bring change to the community, instead it has just followed the same paths.
    Other municipalities and corporations are taking drastic actions to cut costs across the board, instead our council is adding additional staffing costs and not providing any additional services for this cost.

  22. THIS IS NOTHING SHORT OF A SCANDAL! A “hottie hired for he Mayor” should read the headline. How can this be tollerated in a time when Canadian Citizens are looking for work and this newbie Mayor and lackie of a CAO make such foolish decisions? I am sorry but a $40,000 paycheck for someone with no experience does not wash!!!! Bill Strauss, I seriously hope you see this nonsense and run again for Mayor. We need to return to some good old fasion honesty and common sense. Brennman, Cowan, you guys are wreckless with tax money!!!!

  23. Its unfortunate that the Mayor,councilors and the CAO could not find a unexperienced entry level administration assistant in Woolwich Township, the Waterloo Region, Ontario or in Canada.It’s fantastic that we have 0% unemployment in Woolwich Township and that the only qualified person has to be brought in from another continent and paid a measly $65,000.00 including benefits.I just hope that the extra $30,000.00 they are paying this person does not stop council from helping one of our great charities or the need to help the homeless.
    What’s with politicians ???? They campaign on fiscal responsibility,,, then they get elected and they start drinking the cold water around the council chamber and BAM , they get constant brain freezes.What are they thinking with !!!
    Welcome to Canada !

  24. Is the privacy act protecting privacy here or something else? I would imagine many of the 100+ who applied would waive their privacy in order to see how this person is more qualified. I know I would. It is comical to compare this salary to Queens Park. What is the difference in the cost of living in Toronto to Elmira? The mayor campaigned to ensure taxpayers were treated better and to stop abuses at city hall. Will this hire be the center piece of your reelection campaign? A good start to being a 1 term mayor.

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