Resident looks for answers about staffing issues at municipality

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A Merrickville-Wolford resident rocked the boat at the last council meeting with her questions concerning the municipality’s former Treasurer and CAO. Pat Watson is a long-time Merrickville resident, a former council member and a dedicated member of the community. “This is my Village,” she said, as she got up to speak in front of council. “I’ve been around a long time and, at the present time, I am not very happy with the current situation here regarding municipal staff.”

Pat was referring to the sudden dismissal of the municipality’s Treasurer, Sheila Kehoe, as well as the fact that the CAO, John Regan, has been placed on leave. “We find ourselves once again without two major people,” she told council. “We hear a lot about transparency and accountability. I am here to ask you, respectfully, to clear up some questions.”

Pat went on to ask several questions about John’s absence, including whether his leave was chosen, or imposed upon him, whether he is receiving his full salary and benefits, and whether/when he will be returning to the municipality. She was also concerned about whether there will be an inquiry or litigation of any kind needed, and if a severance will be part of the settlement should he not return to work.

Her questions regarding Sheila were of a similar nature, asking whether she was indeed let go and escorted from the building, the reason for her dismissal, and whether there will be any charges laid against her. She says she is also concerned about the financial impact these staffing issues may have on the taxpayers and rate-payers of the municipality.

“Every day, there is another story and I believe that the residents of this village have had enough of this nonsense and it’s about time they got some clarification of the situation as it presently exists,” Pat said.

Interim CAO, Arie Hoogenboom, was on hand at the meeting and fielded most of Pat’s questions. Arie has been appointed interim CAO/Clerk/Treasurer after Nigel White handed in his resignation on February 13. He decided to leave Merrickville-Wolford in the hands of Arie when he realized that the needs of the municipality were more than he could handle with his limited schedule.

“There are obviously some significant staffing issues that are underway,” Arie said at the meeting. “Some of your questions are specific to individuals and clearly those are questions that I cannot answer, and should not be answered, while this process continues to unfold.”

He did confirm that Sheila was released, without cause, prior to the situation with John. In employment law, being released without cause means that she has been let go for reasons that are not related to misconduct. Notice of termination and possibly severance pay is required as outlined in the employment/labour standards.

He also said that John had been placed on paid administrative leave on January 19. Administrative leave often occurs when an allegation of misconduct is made against an employee. The leave allows employers to conduct an investigation before determining an appropriate course of action.

Arie says that the municipality has sought outside legal and human resources advice about how these issues can be brought to a conclusion in a timely fashion. He says that there is a cost to these proceedings, and he is unable to give a timeframe for it right now. A workplace investigator was also hired at the end of January, and Mayor David Nash says their investigation is nearing conclusion.

Despite Pat’s questions, and reminders about transparency and accountability, it is unclear whether residents will ever know what really happened with John and Sheila. “I know how some of these things have to be handled, and they have to be handled with due respect for all parties involved,” Arie said. “In some cases, things are sorted out where both parties agree that there will be no information released.”

As of this week, the municipality will be working with the United Counties to facilitate full-time recruitment for a new Treasurer. Arie will also be looking at filling the position on an interim basis, because the full recruitment process could take up to ten weeks, and help is needed immediately to finalize the budget.

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