COLUMN: Stop the buyouts

Why do elected officials believe it is acceptable to use taxpayer funds to buy out municipal employees instead of dealing with issues? It’s a fair question to ask given the track record of municipalities here in Eastern Ontario.

In Cornwall in 2012, the city terminated then Human Resources director Robert Menagh without cause. That termination triggered a settlement package reported in media of the day to be close to $300,000. Under normal circumstances, a settlement package would not be public knowledge, but Menagh agreed in 2012 to make the amount public. The amount of the settlement was so high due to previous work experience being credited towards his seniority in the position. Had Menagh been terminated with cause, the amount paid would have been zero. The settlement may have only cost one-fifth of one per cent of the city budget that year, it is still a cost to the taxpayers.

In early 2014, South Glengarry council dismissed without-cause the municipality’s Chief Administrative Officer and Treasurer together. South Glengarry Mayor Ian McLeod stated that council and the departed employees had “philosophical differences”. Packages were negotiated, the details of which were not released.

South Dundas council placed then-CAO Steve McDonald on a leave of absence in 2015, buying out his position. This was followed by now-former Fire Chief, Chris McDonough this past week. Both were on a leave-of-absence, then they received packages from council, funded by the taxpayer. The existence of a package for McDonough was confirmed by South Dundas Mayor Evonne Delegarde in an interview with Cornwall Newswatch Editor Bill Kingston after the council meeting. The official reasoning for council to push McDonald and McDonough out lay within in-camera meetings which the public will not know the contents of, and town gossip. While some outlets prefer to use “un-named sources” in their writing, this writer will not.

The overarching issue with all these dismissals, resignations, buyout packages and such is, why are councils using this as a method for dealing with employees that they appear to not get along with?

Council of the day sets the direction, the policy of how the municipality is to function. Administration is to implement the policy and see to adherence of that policy and all bylaws of the municipality. Like any workplace, if an employee, management or otherwise, is not following the direction of the management, there are rules and legislation governing conduct. Identify employee issues, rectify them, and if all other options are exhausted, terminate. Has this been done in the issues highlighted above?

Council members, regardless of the municipality, tend to forget that, while the workplace should be a safe environment to work, every person does not have to be friends. Respectful to each other? Yes. Work together? Always. Besties? No. This means personalities should not get involved. Council has its job to do, and so does administration.

Buying out employees due to personal issues or “philosophical differences” is the easy way out to solve council’s issues but an abuse of the fiduciary responsibility voters have entrusted their elected council. It is a practice that has become more common with the revolving door in municipal offices. It needs to stop. There are better ways of dealing with employment issues, that are easier on the taxpayer’s pocketbook.