Clerk walks out of coun­cil meet­ing

The Mid-North Monitor - - Front Page - BY CAMILLA WHITE-KIRK­PATRICK

The Oct. 30 reg­u­lar meet­ing of Es­panola coun­cil came to an abrupt end when clerk Paula Roque walked out of coun­cil cham­bers.

The clerk’s exit was the cul­mi­na­tion of a meet­ing that was fraught with ten­sion from the very start as the agenda in­cluded a rec­om­men­da­tion re­gard­ing the In­tegrity Com­mis­sioner re­port.

The In­tegrity Com­mis­sioner Re­port, which was pre­sented to coun­cil in Au­gust, was pre­pared by Shearer Parnega LLP and found the mayor and four mem­bers of coun­cil in vi­o­la­tion of the code of con­duct in their role as elected of­fi­cials.

The re­port cited sev­eral al­le­ga­tions by staff against Mayor Ron Piche and coun­cil­lors Ron Du­p­lessis, Ken Du­p­lessis, Ray Du­four and Heather Malott.

It found the coun­cil­lors en­gaged in be­hav­iours con­trary to the code of con­duct and rec­om­mended var­i­ous penal­ties in­clud­ing sus­pen­sion of re­mu­ner­a­tion, work­place ha­rass­ment train­ing, and train­ing in the proper role of coun­cil in re­la­tion to staff and the de­ci­sion mak­ing process.

The re­port said the mayor failed to ef­fec­tively di­rect and con­trol mem­bers of coun­cil dur­ing meet­ings and en­gaged in un­pro­fes­sional and an­tag­o­nis­tic ex­changes with coun­cil­lors which con­trib­uted to a work en­vi­ron­ment that un­der­mined staff. It was rec­om­mended that Piche com­plete train­ing on ef­fec­tive lead­er­ship.

Item G1 on the reg­u­lar meet­ing’s agenda was a rec­om­men­da­tion to not im­pose sus­pen­sions of coun­cil­lors’ re­mu­ner­a­tion, but that coun­cil sup­port and im­ple­ment a com­pre­hen­sive plan en­ti­tled ‘Coun­cil’s New Vi­sion,’ which is de­signed to im­ple­ment real change in Es­panola.

The reg­u­lar meet­ing be­gan with ques­tion pe­riod where CAO Cyn­thia Townsend in­tro­duced her­self as a res­i­dent of Es­panola and posed a ques­tion to coun­cil.

“With re­gards to Item G1, I am aware that we cur­rently have a strate­gic plan, a pro­ce­dural by­law as well as a code of con­duct for coun­cil, a code of con­duct for staff, a work­place vi­o­lence and ha­rass­ment pol­icy, which were adopted by this coun­cil and a com­mu­ni­ca­tion pol­icy. So my ques­tion is will the new vi­sion be to con­stantly change the rules by which we are gov­erned by as op­posed to ac­cept re­spon­si­bil­ity for one’s ac­tions; and my fol­low up ques­tion is what kind of a mes­sage does this send to res­i­dents, staff and the youth of our com­mu­nity?”

Coun­cil­lor Bill Fos­ter said the new vi­sion will change some of what coun­cil is do­ing.

“We want to make sure we pro­vide op­por­tu­nity for coun­cil to give di­rec­tion to staff par­tic­u­larly when it comes to di­rec­tion and in­for­ma­tion we would like to have to make de­ci­sions.”

He ex­plained that coun­cil mem­bers get their agenda on a Fri­day and a staff re­port with some in­for­ma­tion.

“Of­ten we’re faced with hav­ing to make de­ci­sion with not enough time to think about it and not enough time to go back to staff to ask for ad­di­tional in­for­ma­tion.”

Townsend stopped Fos­ter and asked the mayor if she could re­peat the ques­tion, which she did.

Coun. Ken Du­p­lessis said he didn’t think coun­cil would be con­stantly chang­ing the rules.

“Some changes that will come into ef­fect will be im­prove­ments, to have a bet­ter work­ing re­la­tion­ship, bet­ter un­der­stand­ing, bet­ter re­spect for each other.”

He added that there will be noth­ing but im­prove­ment.

“I be­lieve coun­cil is se­ri­ous about this. There has been lots of de­bate, ar­gu­ment, an­i­mos­ity and ill re­fute over the last term. I be­lieve it can sig­nif­i­cantly im­prove.”

Piche said that heal­ing is needed and staff needs to be in­cluded in the con­ver­sa­tion.

“Coun­cil hasn’t com­mu­ni­cated well with staff and has ac­tu­ally com­mu­ni­cated badly and that’s what has been go­ing on.”

He con­tin­ued, “We talk about change. We need to be peo­ple of change and it has to hap­pen im­me­di­ately. I apol­o­gized pub­licly when the Parnega re­port came out be­cause I knew that I was wrong. Any­one else that wants to apol­o­gize can apol­o­gize right now.”

Piche praised staff for their in­tel­li­gence and hard work and said he was not happy with how all this hap­pened at the end of coun­cil’s term.

Coun. Ray Du­four di­rected a com­ment to Townsend re­gard­ing the last part of her ques­tion.

“Ev­ery­one will be ac­count­able for their ac­tions, that’s for sure.”

When the rec­om­men­da­tion re­gard­ing the in­tegrity re­port came up on the agenda, Ken Du­p­lessis de­clared a con­flict of in­ter­est. Coun­cil­lors Du­four, Heather Malott and Ron Du­p­lessis did the same and they all ex­ited the gallery.

When the rec­om­men­da­tion was read, all three re­main­ing mem­bers of coun­cil raised their hands in sup­port of the mo­tion in­clud­ing the mayor, Fos­ter and Coun. Bob Yo­com.

As soon as the vote was com­plete, Roque stood up and walked out of coun­cil cham­bers.

Sev­eral staff were in the gallery and fol­lowed the clerk out in­clud­ing CAO Cyn­thia Townsend, Fire Chief Mike Pi­chor, man­ager of fi­nan­cial ser­vices Cathy Tessier, chief build­ing of­fi­cial Dan Rivet, pro­gram man­ager Ch­eryl Ken­nelly, man­ager of pub­lic works Joel Yusko, as­sis­tant man­ager pub­lic works Dave Parker and man­ager of town’s of­fice for pro­vin­cial of­fenses Chris­tine Des­jardins.

The four mem­bers of coun­cil that had de­clared a con­flict of in­ter­est re­turned to the ta­ble and the mu­nic­i­pal­ity’s lawyer Paul Cas­san in­formed them that the meet­ing could not pro­ceed with­out a clerk.

Af­ter a 20 minute re­cess, the lawyer ad­dressed Piche: “Your wor­ship, with­out a clerk the meet­ing is over. We can’t con­tinue.”

Cas­san ex­plained that a spe­cial meet­ing would have to be called to ad­dress the rest of the agenda items.

The meet­ing was ad­journed. The Mid-North Mon­i­tor reached out to the CAO the fol­low­ing day for a com­ment.

“I think it is pretty self ex­plana­tory why staff chose to leave,” said Townsend.

A spe­cial closed meet­ing has since been sched­uled for Nov. 6, but the out­come was not known prior to dead­line.

The agenda in­cluded a mat­ter re­gard­ing solic­i­tor-client priv­i­lege, the rec­om­men­da­tion re­gard­ing the In­tegrity Com­mis­sioner Re­port and a by­law to adopt “Coun­cil’s New Vi­sion.”

Coun­cil’s new vi­sion is a 13-page doc­u­ment out­lin­ing an ap­proach to build a cul­ture of trust by es­tab­lish­ing and fol­low­ing the rules, im­prove de­ci­sion-mak­ing pro­cesses, strengthen lead­er­ship and de­velop the ‘team.’

YOUTUBE PHOTO Clerk Paula Roque walks out of the Oct. 30 meet­ing fol­lowed by other town staff mem­bers.

YOUTUBE PHOTO

Paul Cas­san, lawyer for the Town of Es­panola, tells coun­cil that a clerk needs to be present for the meet­ing to con­tinue.

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