Valerie M’Garry was called in as the integrity commissioner for an investigation of a complaint filed September 4 2020 against both Mayor Paula Assaly and Hawkesbury council for actions and events surrounding the results of an in-camera session June 16 2020 during which three municipal staff were dismissed following a four-three vote. The incident has been the subject of a previous integrity commission report by John Saywell and also an Ontario Ombudsman investigation and M’Garry used the two previous reports as part of the background information for her own investigation.
M’Garry made an official presentation of her findings and recommendations during the September 27 council session. She noted one complaint was that the mayor had been “acting in bad faith, engaging in acts of political vengeance, and waging a personal vendetta against the complainant, and putting her own needs and desires and wellbeing ahead of the town and its citizens.” The other complaint, M’Garry said, was that “council, as a whole, failed to act as the guardian of the Municipal Act and the Code of Conduct of Hawkesbury, allowing these problems to persist through its time in office so far.”
M’Garry summarized the events surrounding the June 16 2020 in-camera session. There was a vote to dismiss three staff members. The mayor and councillors Lawrence Bogue, André Chamaillard, and Antonios Tsourounakis had all agreed prior to the meeting to vote for dismissal. The other three councillors were surprised by the call for a dismissal vote though they opposed it.
M’Garry noted that hiring and firing of municipal staff « is simply not the responsibility of members of council or any member of council. » That, she said, is one of the duties of either the town’s chief administrator or its human resources director.
During her investigation M’Garry became « quite concerned » about some of incidents and details discovered concerning mayor and council dealings and interaction with municipal staff and overall management of the town. She warned that the Ministry of Municipal Affairs has dismissed elected councils before for poor management and taken over governorship of a municipality until a new council was elected. She recommended council undergo professional management training to prevent that from happening.
« If you don’t want that (intervention) to happen, » she said, « I think that you should, even though there may not be much time left in your term, retain a professional management team and notify the ministry that you are trying to ‘get your act together’. »
Council also got a warning from Chief Administrator Dominique Dussault to do something to guarantee the protection of municipal staff from harassment by individual council members or council as a whole.
« I am asking council to find a solution, » Dussault said, « or else I am going to go to the Ministry of Labour. This is not acceptable, neither to me nor to any of the employees.”
Council voted 5-1 to accept the M’Garry report. Separate votes were held on the recommended sanctions.
Three sanctions « died on the table » because no member of council would propose accepting them for a vote. Those sanctions were: that the mayor and councillors involved in the organized voting block to dismiss three staff members have to sign formal apologies, acknowledging their « misguided and inappropriate behavior” ; that council as a group work with a professional management training consultant on the leadership skills suitable for municipal government; and that council publicly reprimand the mayor for failing to abide by several sections of the Municipal Act and also the Hawkesbury Code of Conduct.
Council tabled one recommendation for a resolution that defines who is part of the municipal management team and that any action of council in hiring or firing staff must require a two-thirds majority vote. Council will refer this to the human resources department for a legal recommendation.
Council agreed with the last sanction. It will send a copy of the M’Garry report, and any other integrity commission review reports presented within the next six months, to the ministries of municipal affairs and of labour. Written resolutions will accompany those reports, authorizing the ministries to contact the report authors about their findings and conclusions.