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Former Saanich CAO to get almost $600,000 in severance after firing without cause

The district has not explained the reason behind Paul Thorkelsson’s termination
Mayor Fred Haynes receives congratulations from Saanich chief administrative officer Paul Thorkelsson during 2018 inaugural council following Oct. 20 municipal election. Thorkelsson will receive nearly $600,000 in severance pay after being let go without cause by the district last month. (Black Press Media file photo)

The District of Saanich is on the hook for almost $600,000 after firing its chief administrative officer without cause last month.

The district announced in late November it would “end its relationship” with its CAO of almost six years effective Nov. 29.

Saanich Freedom of Information documents containing Paul Thorkelsson’s severance amount, as well as his employment agreement, were provided to Black Press Media by a local taxpayer advocacy group. The documents show Thorkelsson will receive $579,769 in severance pay, equal to two years’ salary.

Thorkelsson’s employment agreement states that Saanich could terminate the top civil servant for “just cause, without notice or payment in lieu of notice; or without cause, and without obligation,” by providing severance in the amount of 24 months’ pay if the firing came after his first year on the job.

“Saanich has benefited from Paul’s leadership these past six years,” said Mayor Fred Haynes at the time of the announcement. “On behalf of Saanich council and staff, we thank Paul for his service and wish him well in his future endeavours.”

Black Press Media emailed and called the mayor recently requesting comment on the severance package, but received no response. The municipality, however, emailed a statement Monday (Dec. 20) saying, “the district’s employment relationship with the former CAO is a personnel matter that cannot be discussed publicly due to privacy concerns.”

Brent Reems has been appointed acting CAO following Thorkelsson’s departure.

The Grumpy Taxpayer$ of Greater Victoria asked for answers as to why Saanich’s mayor and council parted ways with the former CAO.

“If council is really going in a new direction, what is it and how does it justify dismissing the senior executive?” vice-chair Stan Bartlett asked in an email to Black Press Media. “How much more than $600,000 will this cost taxpayers and will mayor and council ever reveal the final amount?”

Taxpayers are fed up with high severance packages being paid out by South Island municipalities, the Grumpy Taxpayer$ said.

READ: District of Saanich ‘ends relationship’ with former CAO Paul Thorkelsson