BLACK RIVER-MATHESON – A closed Matheson council meeting that the integrity commissioner says turned into a “gripe session” negatively targeting the municipality’s CAO is the focus of a recently completed report. 

It all starts with an unmarked envelope handed out to councillors at the start of a July 2023 meeting. 

“Whether or not the contents of the envelope influenced anyone’s opinion is not the point. It is the failure to reject the contents of the envelope out-of-hand, disclose the circumstances of their delivery, and at least attempt to put a stop to the discussion that tainted the integrity of the meeting,” wrote integrity commissioner Harold G. Elston in his report.

He determined that former councillors Dave Dyment, Kim Druer, Chantal Rondeau, Allana Schmidt, Louise Gadoury and Keith Neal broke multiple sections of the township’s code of conduct.

The recommendation is to have council ask staff to arrange training on the principles of proper municipal governance. Matheson is currently amid a byelection, which is being held on Aug. 12.

The report received at Tuesday’s council meeting is one in a series of integrity commissioner reports. Two more are expected at the June 11 meeting, and three reports are pending submission.

While there was no discussion on the item at the May 28 meeting, Kathy Horgan — the provincial bureaucrat appointed to make council decisions until new members are elected — asked where people can find the reports.

The area of the township’s website in question is under construction, but clerk Cassandra Child said it should be up in about a week. 

Child, CAO Chris Wray, and former mayor Doug Bender filed the complaint against the former councillors on Aug. 4, 2023. 

The focus is the closed session of the July 18, 2023, meeting.

The part of the meeting not open to the public was about renewing the CAO’s contract and complaints made under the township’s workplace violence and harassment policy.

At the start of the meeting, Druer handed out a plain, unmarked envelope to all former council members, excluding Bender. The packages contained what Elston described as “selective and confidential information, comprised of selective emails between the CAO and a person interested in developing a hotel on a parcel of township-owned land.”

“Unfortunately, during the closed part of the July 18 meeting, under the topic CAO employment contract, the discussion degenerated into more of a gripe session, negatively targeting the CAO, as opposed to a review of the terms of his contract — the reason for the meeting,” Elston wrote.

“I am satisfied that the surreptitious introduction of this information contributed not only to the drift of the discussion from the identified topic, but also to the vindictive tone that arose.”

According to Elston’s report, Child, Bender and all councillors were in attendance. The CAO did not attend the meeting.

On July 19, Elston said Rondeau went to the township’s office and met with Bender, Wray and Child to discuss the letter. With the approval of Bender, Child called an emergency council meeting on July 19. All members attended except Druer, who had resigned that morning.

“The CAO spoke, expressing his concern about how the meeting unfolded and what had been presented, alleging that it was an attempt to influence his contract renewal,” Elston wrote.

“The CAO stated that he had not acted outside his duties and responsibilities and undertook to provide Council with a full report on the discussions and actions concerning the hotel development.”

Councillors were given written notice of the complaint on Aug. 15, 2023. Elston asked for a written response by Aug. 29 and received one from everyone but Druer.

According to Elston, Rondeau’s biggest concern was Wray’s work emails had been breached because the envelope contained correspondence between the CAO and a potential purchaser/investor concerning the motel land, which is why she met with the mayor and senior staffers the next day.

“She opened the envelope when she got home and her ‘jaw dropped’ as she knew she was given information that she should not have been in possession of,” Elston wrote.

Schmidt told Elston she didn’t open the envelope. Neal said he gave it a glance but it didn’t influence him because he didn’t have time to fully review and consider it.

Gadoury read it, but was already aware of the information. She told Elston any breach of policy was not malicious, but rather committed out of inexperience and lack of knowledge.

Elston said Dyment provided him with a detailed response, defending council’s actions and raising a series of questions. In his report, Elston said he disagrees with Dyment’s comments.

Steven Campsall, who was appointed to council after Druer resigned, was sworn in in October and not part of the group at the time.

In his findings, Elston agreed there was a breach of three sections of the township’s code of conduct for members of council and two sections of the council and staff relations policy.

One breach was that, “no member shall use confidential information for personal or private gain or benefit, or for the personal or private gain or benefit or to disadvantage of any other person or body.”

By distributing the envelope at the meeting to review the CAO’s new contract, Elston said it’s clear Druer’s intentions were to “impugn the CAO’s professional and ethical reputation, to his disadvantage in the negotiations over his contract. The attempt to malign the CAO demonstrated a marked lack of respect.”

“As a courtesy to the CAO, any concerns should have been put to him in a proper manner, in the proper forum. Instead, Mr. Wray was tried and convicted in absentia,” Elston wrote.

Elston’s report can be found here.

By Marissa Lentz, Local Journalism Initiative

Original Published on May 29, 2024 at 09:50

This item reprinted with permission from   Timmins, Ontario

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