More than $1 million in 'Illegitimate bonuses' went to most senior RMWB leaders: report

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Bonuses that the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo (RMWB) alleges were “illegitimate” mostly went to current and former senior directors at the municipality, according to a document leaked to Fort McMurray Today. Its authenticity was confirmed by the RMWB on Wednesday after administration shared a list of the bonuses with staff.

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The document is part of the RMWB’s investigation into allegations former human resources director Kari Donnelly “concealed, or caused to be concealed” bonuses worth more than $1 million, according to a lawsuit filed by the RMWB on June 7 in the Fort McMurray Court of King’s Bench.

Council was told the results of the investigation during a closed-door February meeting. The RMWB is not releasing the rest of the investigation, citing legal and privacy considerations.

Donnelly is accused of approving the payments “with broad discretion” in 2021 and 2022. The accusations have not been proven in court. As of Wednesday afternoon, Donnelly has yet to file a statement of defence.

A municipal spokesperson said Wednesday the third-party investigation did not find any other current or former employees participated in the bonus approval process. The recipients have not been fired and will not be repaying the bonuses. There are no plans to fire any current staff over the handling of this matter.

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“The bonuses were a surprise to these recipients and were represented as merit-based recognition for their efforts and to address a chronic leadership recruitment and retention issue,” reads a statement from the RMWB.

Name 2021 Bonuses 2022 Bonuses TOTAL
Kari Donnelly, human resources director who was fired from the RMWB in 2023 $44,746 $55,932 $100,678
Dennis Fraser, Indigenous and rural relations director $40,184 $51,588 $91,772
Brad McMurdo, planning and development director who left the RMWB in 2023 $33,233 $51,588 $84,821
Antoine Rempp, environmental services director $30,953 $42,356 $73,309
Jade Brown, chief legislative officer $39,964 $32,071 $72,035
Keith Smith, public works director $31,767 $32,582 $64,349
Rachel Orser, supply chain management director $34,157 $30,953 $65,110
Jody Butz, regional fire chief and emergency management director $30,953 $31,767 $62,720
Deanne Bergey, community and protective services director $30,138 $30,953 $61,091
Matthew Harrison, communications director $29,324 $30,138 $59,462
Kelly Hansen, strategic planning and business initiative director $27,627 $30,138 $57,765
Susan Trylinski, legal services director $32,582 $21,721 $54,303
Dennis Warr, engineering director $30,251 $21,178 $51,429
Linda Ollivier, chief financial officer and interim CAO $44,528 $0 $44,528
Matthew Hough, deputy CAO who left the RMWB in November 2021 $40,500 $0 $40,500
Margo Firman, senior executive liaison $24,885 $14,516 $39,401
Nicole Curwin, senior executive liaison $24,885 $13,133 $38,018
Laurie Farquharson, chief financial officer $0 $10,317 $10,317
Elyse Franks, paralegal $0 $7,500 $7,500

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The RMWB is suing Donnelly for at least $201,958.30, which covers her severance and the bonuses she allegedly gave herself, plus punitive damages and the RMWB’s legal costs. The lawsuit says Donnelly was fired without cause for an unrelated matter last October.

CUPE wants firings and repayments following bonus scandal

While the RMWB is not releasing the third-party report, a municipal spokesperson said the organization is following the suggestions of the investigator.

They include automatically reporting compensation to council and having the CAO meet with council before approving any “anomalous compensation.” This includes payments that fall outside of specific parameters that will be determined on an individual and aggregate basis.

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The CAO should also not allow compensation decisions of a to-be-determined dollar amount to be made without controls in place. The chief financial officer, and not just human resources, should also be included on compensation decisions.

A code of conduct should include specific requirements for documenting compensation evaluations, decisions and approvals.

The leadership of the Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) Local 1505, which represents more than 750 municipal employees, is calling for all bonus recipients to be fired with cause and for the bonuses to be repaid.

Union leaders have pointed out the bonuses were paid during a time when staff were told by administration there was no money for raises. CUPE and the RMWB recently reached an agreement to stop 459 unionized jobs from being cut.

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Craig Milley, president of CUPE Local 1505, said some recipients were part of those negotiations. He said details of the bonuses were never disclosed to the union during bargaining talks.

“A large number of the recipients remain in powerful positions within the organization, and we believe as long as they do, there will be a distrust of appropriate spending by administration,” said Milley in a Wednesday interview.

“The union was misled on the financial status of the RMWB during collective bargaining, and we’re in the process of addressing the matter accordingly.”

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