Even after the resignation of Merrickville-Wolford’s CAO, John Regan, residents still seem to be concerned about the cost and process of the investigation.
Resident Terri Hamway was the first to stand up during the second public question period at the council meeting on Monday, June 25, 2018 to ask the municipality to release how much the investigation has cost in total over the past five months. “Now that the investigation is over do you have a total cost?” she asked.
Interim CAO Arie Hoogenboom says he doesn’t have a total cost yet because there are still some outstanding legal bills to take into account. However, he says he should be able to put a report together for council before his last day with the Municipality on June 29, 2018. “We are looking at in excess of $100,000 with the investigation, legal fees and other associated costs,” he says.
Resident Mike Burley is appalled by the number and feels like council has not been transparent enough throughout the process. “What’s the process here?” he asked council last Monday. “How did we get to the point that we hired a full investigative team?”
Deputy Mayor Anne Barr told him that the process followed is outlined in the municipality’s harassment policy that is governed by provincial legislation. “The process that we followed is outlined in that document and it is a public document,” she said. “[I would] ask you to look at provincial legislation that requires us to have these kinds of processes in place.”
The municipality’s harassment policy is available on the municipal website. It defines harassment as “engaging in a course of vexatious comment or conduct against a worker in a workplace environment that is known or ought reasonably to be known to be unwelcome, or workplace sexual harassment.” An investigation and confidentiality are both outlined in policy for addressing workplace harassment. “If it involves a more junior staff person it normally stops at the CAO’s table,” Arie said at the meeting. “In this case because it was the CAO it required some outside expertise and that was sought.”
Many of the questions posed by concerned citizens about the cost of the investigation, the process in which the workplace investigator was hired and the length of what seemed to be an open-ended investigation over the past few months have been met with a “can’t comment” reply. This has spurred a group of citizens to publish a letter outlining fifteen different questions that they feel they deserve answers to. “In the spirit of openness, accountability and transparency, all principles which Mayor and Council have indicated they wish to adhere to, and permit this experience to be a learning one for this and future councils, we believe that answers are needed,” the letter states. Resident Yves Grandmaitre says a similar version of this letter was sent directly to council, with the request that it be put on the council meeting agenda. “All of this related to a legal human resource issue and on the advice of solicitors was not formally responded to be council,” Arie said when asked why it was not placed in the council package. Because of this the group felt it was necessary to go to the media with their requests.
The Municipality is now in active search for a new Interim CAO who will fill the position for up to one year. This will allow current and future council to assess their performance and decide whether to hire the person permanently or carry out a full recruitment process. Arie says he hopes this will give council and residents peace of mind that they are not simply jumping blindly into hiring another CAO. “We should have [the interim CAO] in place within a week,” Arie says. The new hire will not be paid the same $120,000 salary as the former CAO as council passed a resolution at the last meeting to lower the salary range for Merrickville-Wolford’s CAO to between $93,000 and $113,000.