Council members, CAO verbally spar during contentious council meeting

Town hallBy Ron Giofu

Whether it be the issue of allegedly screening e-mails, council’s involvement in the hiring, firing or promotion of employees or a newspaper article, tempers flared on all of them during a fiery council meeting Monday night.

Town council exchanged sharp words amongst each other with CAO Mike Phipps also joining the fray during heated debates that started under new business when Councillor Bob Pillon brought a recent Windsor Star article to the forefront where Councillor Bart DiPasquale and Mayor Wayne Hurst were interviewed with divisiveness on council being an issue raised.

“In my years on council, I’ve never seen anything like this,” said Pillon.

Pillon said accusations of divisiveness and Hurst not keeping council together are “so far from the truth” and said council members should address issues in meetings and not through the media. He also didn’t believe there was a split amongst council members.

“This is where our business is done,” he said.

DiPasquale said he was contacted by the paper and gave his viewpoints.

“That’s all I did,” said DiPasquale. “I expressed my opinion just like anyone else.”

Councillor Diane Pouget said she supported DiPasquale’s statements to the media, noting he was exercising freedom of speech. She said bullying has been taking place amongst members of council and told Pillon “you are part of the problem.”

Councillor John Sutton said if council members “aren’t brave enough” to make such comments in open council, a problem exists there adding that he doesn’t believe there are instances where people are bullied.

“I’m not going to give a reporter a comment like that because it’s a problem between me and the individual,” added Sutton.

“The people that get bullied are the ones trying to make changes,” responded Pouget. “The puppets never get bullied.”

Phipps said council is “so severely divided” and he believes in his five months with that town that administration is “timid” about making recommendations for “fear of reprisal” from members of council or critics in the public.

“We are in the process of eliminating that fear,” said Phipps. Of the 80 people he interviewed on his arrival in Amherstburg, he said many are upset with council’s behaviour. He said if council members’ dislike for one another impacts decisions, they are doing a disservice to residents. “I had no idea how deep the divide goes,” said Phipps.

The CAO called comments that Hurst is divisive as being divisive in themselves and “this mayor works more hours than any mayor I’ve ever met.” Phipps accused some on council and “groups” within the community of “pulling on the chains,” offering “nothing of substance” and “holding the town back.” He said residents will decide who is truly divisive and that those who accuse others of divisiveness should look at themselves first.

“May I suggest you look in the mirror,” said Phipps. “

Thanks Mike, it may be good to talk to you once in a while,” DiPasquale retorted. Pouget called Phipps’ comments “unbelievable” and said he blamed administration for problems when he first arrived. She told Phipps “I could say things that could bring you down” regarding matters and individuals she said she has heard from him.

“Please do not get up there and lecture when you have nothing to talk about,” Pouget told Phipps. “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

When the focus moved to a notice of motion Pouget moved and wanted passed, tempers flared again. The motion, which failed 4-3 in a recorded vote, saw Pouget want to see council cease hiring, terminations, buyouts, employee status changes or the hiring of outside law or consulting firms unless directed to or approved by council. She said the morale is bad amongst municipal employees with many concerned “the axe” will fall again.

“This fear creates panic for the employees and their families,” she said.

Pouget called her motion “morally justified and fiscally accountable” and believed it would help divert lawsuits and harassment complaints.

Sutton said human resources and management is not in the perview of council and recalled being told at a conference that “if you want to manage, quit and apply.”

Trying to oversee all employee movement would be too onerous for individual council members or council as a group. He added his feedback from employees has been positive and that people are happy to work under Phipps.

Councillor Carolyn Davies said Pouget’s motion was “interesting on the surface” but would “freeze us up” if it were passed. She believed such a motion would “bring council and administration to a stop if we pass this.”

Pouget said she wanted recommendations brought back from administration on such human resource matters so they could be voted on in public session.

Phipps said her motion was “all encompassing and a concern to me” and said it should be to the citizens of the town as well. He said if it were passed, it would essentially make council the CAO. Had the motion been passed, it would have also meant council should undertake performance reviews, collective agreement talks and other matters.

Phipps also believed the most “alarming” part of the motion was that it would introduce politics to the human resources department.

“We’ll be back to hiring friends and friends of friends,” he said.

DiPasquale said in the first three years of this council, there have been “a chain of people let go” and proponents of the motion wanted a bit more control and knowledge of personnel moves.

“We don’t want your job,” he told Phipps. “That’s why we hired you.”

Later in the meeting in a separate matter, accusations flew again when Phipps vehemently denied screening e-mails and said he has heard such insinuations from residents and through letters to the editor, one of which ran last week in the River Town Times.

“That’s simply untrue,” he said of the e-mail screening accusation. Phipps said e-mails can be copied to him to improve customer service and to eliminate concerns of residents that their comments are not being heard.

Phipps further alleged “the actions of Councillor Pouget are harming this town.” Pouget said she has multiple e-mails from Phipps to suggest they are being screened by the CAO.

“You have stated in our e-mails that you do monitor our e-mails,” claimed Pouget.

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