By Rosalind Russell – The Integrity Commissioner, Shearer Parnega, has written a very critical review of Espanola council’s behaviour saying the elected politicians harassed, undermined and were abusive to municipal employees.
The case came to a head this year when nine department heads decided to complain to the Integrity Commission over how council treated them. Once the complaints were made, that triggered a Code of Conduct investigation.
In a summary of the 103-page report, Parnega details a lot of the actions by councillor Ron Duplessis.
The Commissioner found Duplessis’ behaviour disrespectful especially toward the CAO, Cynthia Townsend over one of her staff reports. Parnega also pointed that Duplessis created an environment of fear over job security when he made several comments including one directed at Townsend saying she should only speak when spoken to. Further to this, the Commissioner said Duplessis engaged in workplace harassment toward Townsend.
What concerned the Commissioner a great deal was that Duplessis had engaged in similar disrespectful treatment of staff in 2015 and his comments made the workplace an uncomfortable and hostile environment although he later apologized for his behaviour.
The Commissioner called Duplessis’s actions serious and recommended his pay be suspended for 60 days and also before he returns to council he should be trained about council’s role and workplace harassment.
The Commissioner says councillor Ray Dufour’s behaviour was discriminatory and intimidating and similar to offenses that took place three years ago which he wouldn’t acknowledge.
Parnega was talking about Dufour’s comments over accessibility and hiring practices.
The Commissioner noted that both Dufour and Duplessis displayed antagonistic and disrespectful behaviour toward Mayor Ron Piche.
Dufour was also cited for impugning the professional and ethical reputation of staff.
Like Duplessis, Parnega found Dufour’s conduct to be serious and that his salary be suspended for 90 days.
In addition, he’s to undergo training on discrimination and workplace harassment.
The Commissioner said that councillor Heather Mallot should receive a reprimand for harassing and intimidating comments in an email which she quickly apologized for.
Parnega recommended training on the Code of Conduct and workplace harassment and if she failed to do that then her salary should be suspended for 30 days.
The Integrity Commissioner’s report recommends councillor Ken Duplessis get a reprimand and should be trained on workplace harassment.
If he doesn’t then the Commissioner recommends revoking his salary for 30 days.
As for Mayor Ron Piche, Parnega found he engaged in unprofessional behaviour with a couple of the councillors and that this was unprofessional. However, the Commissioner cut Piche some slack saying his pattern of antagonistic behaviour was the result of not knowing what else to do. Despite this the Commissioner said Piche failed to meet his obligations as the head of council and recommended the Mayor get training on effective leadership.
There was no recommendation to suspend the Mayor’s salary.
Councillors Bill Foster and Bob Yocum were not named in either the allegations or the report.
Ironically, it is council itself that ultimately has to decide on these recommendations, which is expected to take place at the next regularly scheduled council meeting of September 11th
The Commissioner added that if the recommendations were not followed then the complainants should call the Ministry of Labour. The report also notes that many of those named by the complainants did not address the allegations against them and did not take part in the investigation.