Frustration over South Dundas staff on display at candidates meeting

South Dundas mayoral candidate Steven Byvelds answers a question about municipal staff culture during a candidate Q&A meeting in Iroquois, Ont. on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2018. Seated is mayoral incumbent Evonne Delegarde. (Newswatch Group/Bill Kingston)

Editor’s note: This story was updated at 7:47 a.m. to correct a name in the eight paragraph. The deputy mayor candidate is Kirsten Gardner, not Joyce Latulippe.

IROQUOIS – A level of frustration over South Dundas municipal staff could be felt in the room of 170 people at the Iroquois Civic Center Thursday night during the second South Dundas candidates Q&A meeting.

Lifelong Iroquois farmer Joe Jansen rhymed off a laundry list of employees who hit the exit door in the last four years, including a CAO, fire chief, recreation supervisor, roads supervisor, bylaw enforcement officer and a building inspector. Jansen asked how the mayoral candidates would improve the staff culture.

Mayoral candidate Steven Byvelds acknowledged the number of staff leaving South Dundas and said any new council could decide to go in a different direction with municipal employees at any time. “(But) they have to treat them fairly. I don’t believe some of them were treated fairly on their exit.”

Byvelds said, if elected, he would work with the CAO and the directors to improve the culture. “The last thing they (staff) want is a big ‘Who’s going to stab me in the back next time?’”

Mayoral incumbent Evonne Delegarde said the “staff was not a very happy bunch” when she came to power in 2014. “There’s a variety of reasons why people have departed from the municipality. However, we have rebuilt a great team. Everybody is working quite well together,” she said.

Members of the public then zeroed in on staff actually doing their job, such as the repairs to Carmen House and the illegally built Galop Canal Marina building.

“The work that council approves (for Carmen House) doesn’t bloody well get done. What is going on? Who is running the show up there? Do the employees decide what they’re going to do and to hell with what they were told to do?” Morrisburg resident Carol Richer asked.

Some $35,000 in repairs were approved for Carmen House in March but no physical work has been done to date. With the delay on repairs to Carmen House, deputy mayor candidate Kirsten Gardner wondered why there was no followup. “It’s a mess. Let’s just call it what it is. In my professional experience, whenever a staff member is given direction, if they do not follow through it’s called insubordination.”

Coun. Archie Mellan agreed it was a “fiasco” and believes there’s been a “communication problem on the whole issue.”

Council candidate Michael Burton, who operates the historical Russell Manor B&B in Morrisburg, described the potential eviction of a tenant at Carmen House as “harassment” that has to stop. He said it’s time for staff to do yearly inspections and work on buildings. “It is called stewardship and it’s about time we take responsibility for that money we spend.”

Coun. Bill Ewing directly blamed municipal staff – some who worked in the 1980s when the Ontario Building Code changed – for the problems with Carmen House today. “That building should have been brought up to fire code. It was never done. Staff that we had employed did not do their job. They did not bring the information to council. I’m willing to take blame for stuff we did or did not do. I’m not about to take blame for staff that did not do their job.”

As for the Galop Canal Marina buiding, Ewing said a municipal official should have overseen and stopped the construction when they knew a building permit was needed. “It’s not up to council to tell him what his job is. He knows it. We pay enough money for it.”

Council candidate Lloyd Wells disagreed with Ewing and said employees and council need to work together.

Candidate Del Jones said the problems between council and staff is a process issue that can be fixed without blaming people.

Another candidate Q&A will happen Monday (Oct. 15) at 7 p.m. at the Upper Canada Playhouse in Morrisburg.