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Visa issues may force Woolwich into new hire

The work visa of Woolwich’s latest recruit still up in the air, the township may have to go through the hiring process again to fill the position. Saskia Koning, a South African citizen in the country on a temporary work visa due to expire in June, was hired last month to fill a newly-created executive assistant’s position, a three-year contract paying almost $50,000 annually.

This week, however, chief administrative officer David Brenneman said the visa situation has yet to be sorted out, which means the township may have to go back to the well.

“If the position becomes vacant, normal practice would be that the township would proceed with a recruitment process to fill the position.”

According to Citizenship and Immigration Canada, the employee is responsible for obtaining a work visa. The township, however, is responsible for obtaining a labour market opinion (LMO) from Human Resources and Skills Development Canada stipulating that the job is open to foreign workers due to a shortage of qualified Canadians. That process is still underway at the township.

This is the latest turn of events in what has become a controversial hiring. Koning, who is a friend of the mayor, beat out some 120 other candidates despite a résumé that does not seem to line up with the qualifications stipulated by the township when it advertised for an executive assistant to the mayor/council and corporate communications assistant.

Both Brenneman and Mayor Todd Cowan have defended the hiring of Koning, calling her the best-qualified candidate. They have, however, refused to discuss her qualifications. But publically-available information shows Koning is listed has having graduated from the University of Cape Town in December 2010 with a degree in film and media production. In an online forum for ex-patriots, she listed her profession as video production assistant. In Canada on a temporary visa that is to expire next month, she had been working as a waitress at a Kitchener restaurant prior to joining township staff on Apr. 26.

Citing privacy issues, the township has refused to discuss specifics of Koning’s qualifications or the visa issue. Officials have also declined to discuss the pay scale for an administrative assistant’s job – $43,000 to $53,000 a year, plus generous benefits – that are out of line with HRSDC data for similar jobs in the private sector. The township 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
Pay levels for the new position, the same range as existing administrative assistant’s jobs at the township, were approved by councillors during budget deliberations in February.

The total compensation package for the position is the equivalent of about a one per cent tax increase, though Cowan notes money was found in the budget without increasing taxes. The extra expense was prorated for 2012, as the job didn’t start until late April.

“It should be noted that council’s support for the executive assistant/corporate communications assistant position did not result in a tax increase of one per cent, rather it was council’s direction that the approval of the new position not result in an increase to the tax rate, and this was achieved,” he said in an email.

In response to questions about the need for yet another staff position, Cowan referred to the original staff report that described the breakdown of duties, a half-time assistant for mayor and council and half-time communications assistant.
“The public expects this council to be more active, responsive and engaged than the previous council, and part-time staff support is needed to help meet this expectation,” reads the justification for the executive assistant.”
No additional rationale was offered.

Previous mayor Bill Strauss, who held the office for 13 years prior to the 2010 election, sees no reason the mayor needs an assistant.

“I just don’t see it as being necessary at all,” he said of the new position in an interview last week, noting that previous staffing levels served the mayor just fine.

“I was happy with the way we operated. There was adequate support staff there at all times.”

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