Hawkesbury mayor drops lawsuits after integrity probe

Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly wants to focus on improving the working environment for city administration and distracting attention from the legal issues that have plagued her administration over the past two years.

On Friday, November 26, Assaly announced that she was dropping legal proceedings against former Integrity Commissioner John Saywell, and indirectly, against the municipality.

According to Assaly, the legal proceedings resulted from a complaint filed in Saywell by the director of human resources Dominique Dussault against Assaly. Dussault continues to hold this position in addition to having been appointed Administrative Director (CAO) earlier this year.

Saywell’s investigation revealed that the mayor violated the Municipal Code of Conduct and the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act in January 2019, when she intervened unilaterally in the process of preparing a request for a government infrastructure grant by withdrawing the mandate from the administration and by entrusting it to an external firm. The investigation revealed in June 2019, the mayor intervened by unilaterally entrusting the Chenail Cultural Center with the responsibility of selling the permits for the launching ramp and the adjacent docks. The investigation also revealed that on June 16, 2019, Assaly declared a closed session without the knowledge of the clerk or the director general, which led to the firing of the former director of recreation and tourism Nicole Trudeau and two other managers of the department. At that same meeting, according to the report, Assaly offered to appoint a replacement for one of the posts without the knowledge of the clerk and the director general. Additionally, Saywell found that on July 29, 2020, Assaly intervened via email to a consulting firm regarding the awarding of a municipal contract.

Saywell filed his report with City Hall on December 31, 2020, but it was intercepted for confidentiality reasons and Assaly did not receive a copy until January 12, 2021. The report was only made public at the meeting. of the council of March 8. 2021.

Assaly faced three sanctions resulting from the investigation. She was required to issue a public apology to former general manager Daniel Gatien, former director of recreation and tourism Nicole Trudeau, and then interim general manager Dussault. Assaly was required to undergo 24-hour training from a professional management coach and was not allowed to participate in municipal plenary committee meetings until a new general manager was hired and the obligations of the other two sanctions did not apply. are met.

The mayor respected the sanctions but opposed the methodology and conclusions of Saywell’s investigation.

“Mr. Saywell did not interview me or my witnesses,” Assaly said on November 26. She alleged that Saywell told her he would contact her as part of his investigation, but did not. . Assaly added that Saywell sent a letter to councilors stating that if she resigned as mayor, he would not file a report on her investigation. She argued the code of conduct requires the integrity commissioner to file a report. reports to the board.

Assaly has launched a legal challenge to Saywell’s investigation in Divisional Court. However, she said some council members did not want to extend the time limit for court administration to find a bilingual judge who could hear the case in French and instead agreed to let the case be conducted in English. This decision gave rise to an injunction process which allowed Assaly to reimburse $ 35,000 in legal fees to the municipality.

Assaly now wants to prioritize what she qualifies as “human capital” and improve the work environment at the town hall. For the past two weeks, Assaly has been picketing outside town hall every day at noon to protest what she calls a “toxic climate” for staff. She would rather see the time and financial resources spent on legal matters rather invested in improving the workplace. Assaly has repeatedly referred to reports dating back to 2014 identifying issues within the municipal workplace.

“For me, it’s a priority. This has to change, ”she said.

The challenge for Assaly in making these changes is difficult due to a divided board. For the press conference on November 26, the mayor was accompanied by advisers Lawrence Bogue and Antonios Tsourounakis. All advisers were made aware of Assaly’s announcement ahead of the November 26 press conference and have been invited to attend. Assaly did not always have the support of the four remaining advisers.

“We need collaboration on the board,” she noted.

Tsourounakis compared the Saywell report to a traffic accident involving two vehicles where the role of a single driver was investigated.

Bogue said Assaly’s decision to drop the lawsuits did not eliminate the problems at City Hall, but it was time to focus on the future.

“The challenge is for the city to move forward. “

Assaly believes that employees with a good work environment are more likely to provide good service to taxpayers.

Lawrence Bogue, left, and Antonios Tsourounakis, center, were the only two Hawkesbury councilors to attend a November 26 press conference called by Mayor Paula Assaly, seated right. Photo: James Morgan

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