Mayor George Harvie has hired former running mate Param Grewal as his executive assistant.
Grewal’s official title in the mayor’s office is director of public engagement and intergovernmental affairs, and his role includes organizing Harvie’s workload, setting up meetings and assisting the mayor in them, and “just a variety of things, the same things that [former mayor] Jackson’s executive assistant did,” Harvie told the Reporter.
Though the position is that of an executive assistant, Harvie said the title reflects the scope of the work Grewal will be taking on.
“It’s intergovernmental affairs, which is so valuable to us, and also community outreach, so he can act for me out in the community,” Harvie said.
The mayor said Grewal comes with “years of considerable experience in provincial and federal governments,” having previously worked as an executive assistant for MLA Jinny Sims and others, and has “extensive experience” in community services and on various private boards.
“He brings years of experience in, great contacts, and he’s going to be of valuable assistance to me in running my office,” Harvie said. He added Grewal will not be directing city staff, as that falls under the purview of the city manager.
Grewal ran for council on Harvie’s Achieving for Delta slate during last month’s municipal election, finishing in seventh place, just 601 votes behind running mate (now councillor) Dylan Kruger.
Grewal started in his new role on Nov. 6, the day after the new council’s inaugural meeting, signing a four-year contract that will see him earn “just under $130,000 a year,” Harvie said.
“It’s a standard contract, with notice of termination and those types of things. And the contract was done through [the City of Delta’s] HR director,” Harvie said, noting Grewal’s hiring filled a vacancy that was carried over from Jackson’s last term in office.
The position was not open to applications, which Harvie said is standard practice for other mayors in the region, as well as for past administrations in Delta.
“It’s practice that the mayor has independence in hiring their own executive assistants or staff, and [follows] the same practice Mayor Jackson did,” Harvie explained.
“[Mayor’s office staff] come under our system but they have to go through the checks and balances as every other city employee would. The difference here is [Grewal] works in the mayor’s office, which is separate and autonomous from the city workforce.”
News of the hiring caused a stir on social media, notably on the Voice of Delta Facebook group, and several other former council candidates weighed in with their criticism of Harvie’s decision. It’s worth noting, however, that many commentors seemed confused about Grewal’s role, believing it to be a new director position with the city rather than a job in the mayor’s office.
Much of the criticism revolved around the perception that Grewal’s hiring was a thank you for helping get Harvie elected, given the lack of a public posting for the position.
“Wow. Patronage is an issue at the federal and provincial level. Didn’t realize it was an issue at the local level too,” former council candidate Lori Mayhew wrote on the Voice of Delta.
“Nov. 5 is when the new mayor and council takes office, [and] by Nov. 19 a position is created, filled, cards printed. Extremely efficient. How many other positions were created and filled in a hush-hush secretive way?” wrote former council candidate Simran Walia, who ran on mayoral candidate Sylvia Bishop’s Team Delta slate. “Why do secretive hiring unless it is to return a huge favor?”
Former independent council candidate Mike Smith put it even more bluntly.
“This position was created to thank this individual for his helping hand in getting votes. We as citizens did not elect him to represent us but yet here he is, representing us. If it’s not a conflict of interest it sure as hell shows where [their] principles are. This alone shows they have none. Buying votes through rewards is nothing new,” he wrote.
Harvie defended his choice to hire Grewal, reiterating that Delta’s mayor has the freedom to hire the staff he or she wants.
“He was an excellent choice to work in my office,” Harvie said. “He’s not part of the civic staff in Delta, he’s in the mayor’s office, working for me.”
Harvie also said that on Monday council asked that a press release go out “showing all of council’s support for Mr. Grewal in his position,” though that has yet to be sent out.