Original Published on Aug 24, 2022 at 16:51
By Chris Gareau, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
CAO-clerk Jill Bellchamber-Glazier is moving to the beaches of Lake Huron in Kincardine after resigning from Southwest Middlesex.
A last-minute scramble to find temporary replacements was held in a closed-door session Aug. 19, before provincial lame duck legislation kicked in. Council first discussed the resignation as a group — also in-camera — at its special meeting on the arena Aug. 18.
Kincardine made the hiring announcement Aug. 15. Bellchamber-Glazier is set to start her new job up Highway 21 effective Sept. 19.
In her place until a permanent CAO can be found will be three people. Southwest Middlesex treasurer Kristen McGill and Thames Centre CAO Mike Henry will share the role of interim CAO. Southwest Middlesex deputy clerk Kendra Kettler will fill in as interim clerk.
Coun. Christa Cowell, who is running for deputy mayor in this October’s election, suggested after an election profile interview to be published next edition that it was issues inside town hall that helped push the CAO away.
Cowell read a question she had for Minister of Municipal Affairs Steve Clark Aug. 16 at the meeting of the Association of Municipalities of Ontario (AMO):
“Minister, we are seeing less interest in local politics because of bad behaviour of fellow council members. We see this in our own community, county, and heard it at the women’s networking event yesterday. What will you do to prevent harassment from council members in the same way that is prevented for other workers in the workplace?”
The question got a round of applause from the crowd of municipal council and staff members.
“Having a workplace or a council situation that we’ve seen in the past year is unacceptable. The government is not going to tolerate it,” replied Minister Clark.
He then defended the integrity commissioner system and said some changes need to be made to strengthen it for a more respectful workplace.
Southwest Middlesex council unanimously passed a motion at its July 27 meeting to support a City of Owen Sound resolution that requesting the Province give councils the power to recall councillors under “carefully prescribed circumstances.”
“That is something that has impacted our council and now we are seeing it impact our staff. And I am disappointed to see Jill Bellchamber-Glazier leave because of the hard work she has put into this community, but I totally understand why,” said Cowell.
Right now, councils only have the power to suspend councillors.
For example, Southwest Middlesex Coun. Mike Sholdice was suspended 30 days of pay Dec. 15, 20 more than the 10 days recommended by integrity commissioner John Mascarin from Aird & Berlis LLP.
Sholdice is running against Cowell for deputy mayor and responded Aug. 17 to an election profile interview request by asking for written questions. He did not reply again ahead of Aug. 22’s press deadline.
The vote to give the harsher punishment to Sholdice passed 5-2 with Coun. Martin Vink and Mayor Allan Mayhew voting against it.
The Code of Conduct complaint came from an Oct. 13 meeting when council was discussing how to fill the council seat left vacant by the passing of Coun. Ian Carruthers. Sholdice was found to have divulged confidential information at that meeting on another councillor seeking the integrity commissioner’s opinion on conflict of interest.
Coun. Christa Cowell declared a conflict of interest at that meeting where council was considering appointing former councillor Rick Cowell to fill the seat until next election. But it was disclosing that Coun. Cowell had sought information on any conflict with her husband’s contract work for Southwest Middlesex that got Sholdice in trouble. He got that information from the treasurer and was told clearly by CAO Bellchamber-Glazier the information was confidential and was not to be divulged publicly.
The mayor said his fellow members with Middlesex County stepped up to help in their time of need, pointing to how they did something similar when Adelaide Metcalfe was in a bind.
“We will muster through. We will miss Jill, there is no question about it, but we have our responsibilities to continue our governance and the result of this came from very good recommendations through administration,” said Mayhew.
The mayor said social media has put pressures on public officials that were not there as strongly before. He added that he wanted to create an atmosphere of trust, and did not want to go into inter-office politics.
“I really hate to comment on that. I really enjoy my relationship working with her (Bellchamber-Glazier). And there’s no question in the world of municipal politics there’s always tensions. But Jill made that choice on her own and I don’t want to speculate as to why,” said Mayor Mayhew.
When pushed, Mayhew said he has met with councillors to discuss their behaviour.
“All councillors have their own style, there’s no doubt about them. I think you can remediate behaviour but it’s sometimes difficult to remediate personalities,” said Mayhew.
Coun. Mark McGill jumped into the comments left on the Facebook page Southwest Middlesex Community News when a couple people started attacking Bellchamber-Glazier Aug. 16.
“People who didn’t like Jill Bellchamber-glazier probably won’t like whoever replaces her either. There sure is a lot of misinformation out there,” wrote McGill.
The mayor was asked if there was anything he could do to avoid inter-office conflicts.
“Looking in the rearview mirror, I think there are few of us in life … when we look in that mirror there’s always things we’re going to do different. Was I a perfect mayor? Not all the time, but I accelerated correction. I think I’d be very cautious to believe any political campaign that said I never made a mistake in my governance,” said Mayhew.
“We have to be cognizant of where the paths curved and to avoid going there again.”
Bellchamber-Glazier did not respond to a message left asking for comment.
Bellchamber-Glazier has 20 years of experience working in the public sector, including the last five-and-a-half as CAO-clerk in Southwest Middlesex. She also spent two years as county clerk for Perth, and a dozen years with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing according to her online resume.
This item reprinted with permission from The Middlesex Banner, Strathroy, Ontario