Former Smithers chief administrative officer Anne Yanciw has landed in Ashcroft.
Yanciw served as the CAO in Smithers from December 2015 to January 2019. Her departure was reported in March 2019. At the time, Mayor Taylor Bachrach declined to explain, saying it was a personnel matter.
The municipality paid Yanciw $96,413 in severance in lieu of notice, according to a response to a Freedom of Information request filed by The Interior News.
“Anytime after an election, sometimes councils want a change of direction, and so that was the case in Smithers,” Yanciw said. “It’s kind of a hockey coach syndrome, so there’s a lot of turnover in CAOs this year, I’ve seen.”
She experienced a strikingly similar situation in 2015, when she was let go without cause from the Village of Valemount in July that year.
A newly elected council had contracted an organizational review, noting a strained relationship between Yanciw and then-mayor Jeanette Townsend that resulted in a “negative impact on Village operations and public confidence.”
The 2015 report found no fault with Yanciw’s performance and presented no justifiable cause for her termination.
Neverthless, the Village let her go. Townsend said she legally could not comment on what led to Yanciw’s removal, but that she wished her well.
Yanciw was rehired in Smithers a few months later, and the mayor said he was aware of the circumstances in Valemount and had no concerns.
Former Valemount mayor Andru McCracken had helped hire Yanciw during his term from 2011 to 2014.
“She was the deputy corporate officer at the time,” said McCracken, now the editor of The Rocky Mountain Goat, an independent newspaper. “We hired her within house and found her wonderful and forward-thinking. It was great. Then an election came and the powers that be changed at the Village of Valemount.
“Basically, there was a little bit of a witch hunt,” he said. “The council of the day paid $20,000 to an external person to say, you know, as the new mayor suspects – is Anne Yanciw, is she not fit for the job? The answer was no. She was doing a good job. But there was an unworkable relationship between that mayor and Anne Yanciw.”
McCracken echoed the complexity of the CAO’s role and the frequency with which individuals are shuffled through the position in municipal governments.
“It’s a tricky job and everybody has their knives out, especially when you’re going through a transition,” he said. “They elected a brand new, completely new council, and in some ways, I think Anne ended up on the pike because of our newness as a council, that was part of it. But the work that we did in Valemount… let’s just say we laid the foundation for Valemount, where it is today.”
Sometimes there’s a bit of a “cabal” that is against change, McCracken explained.
“I’m really confident that people could look at all of the in-camera meetings that we had with Anne and find that things were done in a really good, open style, that we consulted with [the] community.”
“It’s about butting heads,” said McCracken. “I don’t know what happened in Smithers, but I imagine when you’re an able administrator and you’re getting stuff done…. noses get put out of joint, for sure.”
Around election time, McCracken said it is not uncommon for shifts to occur in local government.
“To me, Anne Yanciw is tremendously hard-working, talented, and she’ll be a benefit to Ashcroft. As long as they can keep her, she’s going to be doing great work,” he concluded.
She has now been on the job in Ashcroft for about a month and accompanied Mayor Barbara Roden to the Union of British Columbia Municipalities conference last week in Vancouver.
“She was wonderful down at UBCM, Roden said. “She’s been in local government for quite a long time, she’s got a lot of experience, which is really, really helpful.”
Roden expressed it was great to see how many people knew Yanciw and greeted her warmly during UBCM.
As for her employment history, Roden was well aware of Yanciw’s positions in both Valemount and Smithers.
The hiring decision was made by all members of council, she explained.
“We interviewed four candidates here in Ashcroft then went for a meal with each candidate just to have a more informal discussion with them.”
Council unanimously agreed that Yanciw was their first choice. Afterward, Roden spoke with members of council and one member of the public who approached her about Yanciw’s employment history.
“The timing, particularly in Smithers, was of interest to me because it occurred about two months after the municipal elections,” said Roden. “It’s fairly commonplace in local governments for an incoming council, particularly if there’s a new mayor for example or a significant new make-up on council, to maybe have a different vision or plan moving forward for their community. Often they decide that they would like to have another CAO, perhaps one who is maybe more in line with the vision they have and it does not mean that the previous CAO has done anything wrong, it just means that council feels they want to go in a new direction.”