Town council asks for report on employees qualifications

 

Town hallBy Ron Giofu

 

Town council agreed via a 4-3 vote to get details on employees hired and moved by former CAO Mike Phipps, pending a legal opinion, but there are also questions over if that will put the town in legal jeopardy.

The motion was put forth by Councillor Joan Courtney, who voted in favour of it along with councillors Diane Pouget, Rick Fryer and Jason Lavigne. Opposed were Mayor Aldo DiCarlo, Deputy Mayor Bart DiPasquale and Councillor Leo Meloche.

“I believe council has the right to know who its employees are and what their qualifications are,” said Pouget.

DiCarlo said council members were told by a lawyer that day-to-day hiring is the duty of the chief administrative officer and cautioned them about exposing the town to potential legal risks.

“We have had a meeting with legal counsel and it was my understanding that it was pretty clear that this oversteps the bounds of council,” DiCarlo said. “I’m really concerned about putting the town at risk for further lawsuits and costs.”

CAO John Miceli offered to get a legal opinion, which council agreed to.

“Trust is what got the past council into so much trouble,” said Courtney, adding her belief the motion is to show ratepayers there is transparency and accountability at town hall.

Town council also agreed, by the same 4-3 vote, to stop sending employees to training unless it’s approved by the elected body. Fryer said it would be “cognizant of council” to do so as it would ensure people aren’t learning the job they have already been hired to perform.

While understanding the feelings of his colleagues, DiPasquale had concerns.

“I don’t like the idea of tying people’s hands,” he said.

DiCarlo said Miceli is the person qualified to say who should go for training and who shouldn’t with Miceli worried about whether people would not be allowed to go for necessary certifications their positions require.

Lavigne said the latter point was not a major concern, noting council would deal with such manners in a timely fashion.

“It’s to show the public we are getting control of finances of the town,” said Lavigne.

Phipps was also the subject of a debate earlier in the evening, though it appears little action can be taken at this point. Pouget pressed for why reports on the former CAO’s personnel moves and why departments were moved to the Libro Centre weren’t completed by Phipps, and she grilled Miceli on why a report appeared Monday night rather than in early December. She said Miceli had information in November on the matter but Miceli countered by stating authority to approve Phipps’ hours and workload belonged to then-Mayor Wayne Hurst and not him.

Miceli added that Phipps fulfilled his 170 hour per month obligation Nov. 19 but offered to carry out a report at a rate of $250 per hour over an estimated 40-hour period.

“He hired, he terminated without council’s authority at great costs to taxpayers,” pressed Pouget. “Two departments were moved to the Libro Centre without reports. Those were two important motions and we don’t have answers to that.”

“I don’t understand where we’re going with this,” said DiCarlo. “We’re spending a lot of time on what Mr. Phipps did or didn’t do. We’re not moving the town forward and I think we have to move forward.”

Following the meeting, Fryer said the town is in “financial disarray” and that council has to “set the tone” in the first year. As for qualifications of employees, if an employee is found not to have the qualifications for his or her position, he said Miceli will be directed to come with a recommendation for council.

As for whether he is looking for council to have authority over hiring and firing, he added “we’ll look at that hurdle when we get to it” and didn’t believe it was micromanaging the town.

DiCarlo said while he respected council’s opinions, he was left with “some concerns” over what was decided. He wondered if looking at employees’ personnel information was potentially putting the town at risk of lawsuits from those employees and worried about costs of that.

“I think this oversteps the boundaries of council and I don’t see any positives for us moving forward,” he said. “I’m just really concerned for what this means legally.”

The town is being transparent and accountable, the mayor continued, stating council has been provided every piece of information it has asked for. He admitted to being frustrated, noting that issues like the council remuneration report was deferred and big budget issues are coming up but “issues we can’t do anything about won’t seem to go away.”

DiCarlo emphasized he doesn’t begrudge council’s opinions but worried about the amount of work being put on administration.

“I don’t think we are going down the path Amherstburg needs to move forward,” he said.

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