Special meeting of Tehkummah council ends precipitously

Tehkummah Council photo by Michael Erskine

TEHKUMMAH—A small group of local taxpayers voiced their dismay when a special council meeting called by Reeve Eric Russell abruptly ended on a motion by Councillor Paul Bowerman. As most members of the council quickly vacated the building, Councillor Laurie Leeson remained behind for a discussion with a couple of audience members that quickly escalated in volume on all sides.

“No, I don’t think so at this time,” said Reeve Russell when asked if he had a comment on the meeting.

In making his motion to adjourn Councillor Bowerman rose from his seat to read from a written statement. He indicated that he was upset at having been called and asked if he had voted twice on a poll to select candidates for a position with the municipality. “I am sick and tired of this stuff,” he declared. “Something has to be done about the goings on in Tehkummah Township.” His motion to adjourn was seconded by Councillor Ron Heirons.

The meeting had begun, as is the usual custom at Tehkummah council, with a prayer delivered by the reeve, but had not proceeded to motions to open the meeting or approve the agenda when Councillor Bowerman rose and was recognized with his motion.

There was no vote on the motion, as the bulk of the councillors and the reeve vacated their seats and quorum was dissolved. The town clerk, Karen Gerrard, confirmed that the town’s procedural policy “follows legislation of Ontario.”

Ms. Gerrard noted that, “According to the AMCTO (Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers of Ontario) course I took, legislative parliamentary procedures state that a motion to adjourn does not need a second, as per Mason’s manual.  It was most surprising to me to learn that, and I have not forgotten it.”

Councillor Bowerman was challenged by those in attendance in the audience as to why he had adjourned the meeting, to which a visibly distressed Councillor Bowerman noted he was too upset to discuss the matter at that moment.

He left the council chambers with cries of “this is not fair to us” ringing in his ears. The swift conclusion to the meeting left some in the room questioning the procedure and the ensuing discussion between Councillor Leeson and the audience became quite heated.

Later outside the building, Councillor Bowerman spoke with The Expositor about the issue.

That night’s meeting had been called in order to add another candidate to the list of those being considered for the position of marina attendant. In a previous meeting, Councillor Bowerman indicated that the name of one of the candidates had been mentioned at the council table.

An administration report to council indicates the issue was not being taken lightly.

“In response to requests received from council with regards to releasing the names of candidates that have been shortlisted along with the tally sheet: I cannot overemphasize the importance of the requirements of confidentiality which apply to the township council and its members and staff,” reads the report, “particularly with respect to personal information relating to members of staff, applicants for public appointments and other individuals who may be impacted by actions of the municipality or its council members.”

The report went on to cite the requirements “inherent in the role of the head and all other members of council; the requirements and offence provisions of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act; principles of municipal and member liability with respect to unlawful acts and offences; and the responsibilities of councillors, including, specifically the head of council, under statutory and common law.”

According to the report, “on Wednesday, May 17, the reeve was provided with a confidential list of candidates to be interviewed that contained the candidate number, candidate name, and the number of votes which resulted in producing five candidates for interview.” Under the procedure used, the candidates with three or more votes were shortlisted. There were six members of the interviewing committee, all five members of council and the clerk.

On the afternoon of Wednesday, May 17, the reeve stated that the numbers did not add up with regards to the candidates short listed. The reeve then informed staff that he had contacted Councillors Laird Lee and Leeson and “found out how they voted on the candidates.”  When asked how he figured that out, the reeve apparently informed them that there were too many votes on a few candidates and that the clerk-treasurer must have voted and he believed that is not allowed. 

According to the town’s hiring policy, however, the clerk-treasurer is in fact part of the interview committee, and as the supervisor of the municipal position for which recruitment is taking place, is involved in the short listing of candidates.

On Friday, May 19, Reeve Russell attended the clerk-treasurer office on two separate occasions, once by himself and then again with Councillor Leeson. During the second meeting, the clerk presented Reeve Russell with a copy of the email he had submitted with his choices. According to the report to council, Reeve Russell stated that he had made a mistake in sending his selections. His submission was altered by deleting candidate five and replacing it with candidate six. 

The clerk-treasurer then advised the reeve that she would look into what could be done with the amendment “as per the policies in place.”

“Although the reeve may have made an honest mistake,” notes the report, “the situation is that since there

were days since the submission of candidate selection and since there was a phone poll amongst most council members, that there was opportunity for the influencing of a decision of a council member.”

The matter is complicated by the municipal hiring bylaw which states: “No elected official, appointed officer or employee of the Township of Tehkummah, shall attempt to directly influence the hiring of any applicant.”

The Tuesday night special meeting of council was to determine the question: Should candidate number six be added to the short list of candidates to be interviewed?

On Tuesday, May 23, the clerk-treasurer provided the following recommendation to council: “While this concern is being addressed, interviews of the five short-listed candidates should be held as scheduled and those interviewed should be ranked with the top selection being asked to start employment as soon as possible. This would enable the marina operations to get underway until such time as a second candidate is selected.” But at 3 pm that afternoon, the reeve gave the direction to cancel the interviews scheduled for that evening. The reason stated was that Councillor Lee could not attend. Interviews have not been rescheduled.