Council quartet speaks out about Mayor Assaly’s comments

Gregg Chamberlain
EAP
A quartet of councillors want to “clear the air” about the “toxic atmosphere” that Mayor Paula Assaly alleges exists at Hawkesbury’s town hall.

“We’re here to set the record straight,” said Councillor Robert Lefebvre, during a Monday morning press conference.

Lefebvre and fellow councillors Yves Paquette, Raymond Campbell, and André Chamaillard met with local media to present a 10-point joint statement “to correct the record” for residents about remarks by Mayor Assaly during her noon-hour protest walk last month outside of town hall and also during her own recent press conference where she talked about a “toxic atmosphere” that exists at the municipal office. The four councillors question Assaly’s claim about how long things have been wrong at town hall.

“Mrs. Assaly has mentioned that there is a ‘toxic working environment’ since 2014,” stated the four councillors, “but where is this toxic environment and, if so, why has this been lasting so long? Is this ‘toxic working environment’ only at the Town Hall where Mrs. Assaly has her office?”

The four councillors noted that Hawkesbury had operated without a chief administration officer (CAO) and several other senior staff members as part of an economy measure. Key decisions that would have been handled by those senior staff were done through temporary special advisory committees.

A 2018 human resources department report recommended council hire a full-time CAO for proper management of municipal business and also making the important contacts needed with senior-level governments to help the town. That report resulted in the hiring of Daniel Gatien as the town’s new CAO. When Gatien later stepped down for health and personal reasons, all of the municipal department heads urged council to appoint an interim CAO until a new permanent replacement was found.

Dominique Dussault, then HR director, was appointed interim CAO and eight months later confirmed as the new permanent CAO for the town. All four councillors noted Dussault’s background includes a Master’s degree in business administration and 15 years experience in human resource management in both the public and private sectors.

The four councillors stated that the mayor “has continually interfered in the duties and responsibilities” of the CAO’s office since Dussault was appointed interim CAO and they cited the two reports by integrity commissioners John Saywell and Valerie M’Garry that stated the mayor “failed, on numerous occasions, to follow the Code of Conduct, which is a provincial requirement” in her dealings with the CAO’s office and other senior staff.

“In a period of four months,” the councillors stated, “five senior staff persons left, due in part, to the interference by Mrs. Assaly in their management operations.” The quartet noted that the integrity commission reports are available to the public on the municipal website.

During her own recent press conference, the mayor announced her decision to halt her legal action against both the Town of Hawkesbury and former integrity commissioner John Saywell. The legal action concerned Saywell’s report that criticized the mayor’s past behaviour towards the CAO and other municipal staff and her interference in their work. A court ruling rejected the legal injunction request.

The four councillors noted that all legal cost related to the mayor’s actions, including the integrity commission investigations and the court injunction attempt, amount to more than $560,000 “and these costs continue to increase. They observed that the legal fees for the municipality equal more than five per cent property tax revenue for the budget “that could have been used and invested in roads, sidewalks or parks for the residents of the town.”

The council quartet noted that all the complaints from staff that the integrity commissioners investigated concerned the mayor and not any of the six current councillors.

“We have wished to submit to the residents of the Town of Hawkesbury the facts only,” the quartet stated. “We wish to allow you, the taxpayers, to determine who is actually responsible for the ‘toxic working environment’ and incurring significant expenses that cannot be recovered or invested back into our community where we reside.”

The quarter expressed hope that they and the rest of council can now “put this behind us” and work together as a team to finish council’s mandate before next year’s municipal election.