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Local Conservation Authority in 'total chaos' says its own HR director

Employees describe the Conservation Authority work environment as 'very toxic'

Staff-management relations at the North Bay Mattawa Conservation Authority are so bad staff are ready to walk off the job at any moment to protest an extremely toxic workplace environment.

In fact, the Authority's own Human Resources Director Mark Bremer says it's the worst he's seen in 30-plus years working in the industry.

Bremer told BayToday that relations between staff and CAO Chithra Gowda are so bad that 80 per cent of the 28 employees are "looking aggressively" for another job.

"Is so sad..and this team should not endure anything like that."

How bad?

Bremer says two long-time loyal employees have already been fired and are taking legal action, and at least one other is on stress leave, "a brutal termination" as Bremer describes it. The staff has recently unionized and the Ministry of Labour is looking into the situation.

Bremer, who believes he will be fired by the Board for speaking out, says he has never experienced this level of mismanagement, and that the organization has hit "rock bottom."

He says the management style is "crazy" and "probably insanity." Apparently, top management stripped managers of key tasks because management didn't trust the staff to do the job properly. Bremer says staff should be empowered to do the best job possible.

"This is a great team, great people. You cannot get better than them and they are willing and determined to do their work. If somebody will understand that they have to let them do the work.

"This is a huge mistake, a huge mistake, and I strongly believe that. We already know this organization hit rock bottom...lower than rock bottom. You cannot go anywhere. It's the grave. So now is the time to regroup and get out of that hell."

Bremer was only hired six weeks ago, but it didn't take him long to recognize he was walking into an organization with severe staff-management problems. He says this is the third warning he has given to the Board about the problems, but the Board has taken no action to resolve things.

"I've already shared with the board chair, Shelly Belanger, in confidence about three weeks ago that something is rotten. You know really, things have to be changed. I strongly believe that if this is not going to change it's not fair for taxpayers to pay for anyone's incompetence or lack of leadership, lack of management skill set, and basically I will say lack of humanity."

BayToday reached out to Board Chair Belanger for her take on the situation and she sounded surprised.

"That's news to me. I have no comment," she replied.

Considering staff is prepared to walk out en masse, the Authority is being investigated by the Ministry of Labour, and staff recently unionized, that seems an odd response, but Belanger was unwilling to discuss it further.

We also reached out to CAO Chithra Gowda who told us she would try and set up a meeting between herself, Belanger and BayToday to discuss the issue but nothing happened.

All Human Resources Director Bremer wants to see is peace restored to the workplace and for the Board step up to help correct the situation.

"The employees are at a turning point where basically they don't want even to come back to work. And I have a strong feeling that they will all walk out if nothing is done. And if you know the leadership, you know the style is not going to change in any way and the leaders will be the same. I have a strong feeling that you will hear that people walk."

So Bremer is left hoping that things are going to change for the good of the team. "And the team means 28 people, not just two of them."

Bremer is a reluctant whistle-blower, preferring to work things out behind the scenes, but feels a strong moral duty to do what's right. He doesn't think the Board has exhibited the same principles.

"I expect I will be crucified to be quite honest."

The 12 members Board of Directors of the Conservation Authority are appointed by its 10 member municipalities:

  • Township of Papineau-Cameron - Shelley Belanger (Chair)
  • Municipality of Mattawan - Michelle Lahaye (Vice Chair)
  • City of North Bay - Chris Mayne
  • City of North Bay - Mayor Peter Chirico
  • City of North Bay - Lana Mitchell
  • Municipality of Callander - Grant McMartin
  • Municipality of Calvin - Bill Moreton
  • Municipality of East Ferris - Steve Trahan
  • Municipality of Powassan - Dave Britton
  • Town of Mattawa - Loren Mick
  • Township of Bonfield - Steve Featherstone
  • Township of Chisholm - Nunzio Scarfone

Jeff Turl

About the Author: Jeff Turl

Jeff is a veteran of the news biz. He's spent a lengthy career in TV, radio, print and online, covering both news and sports. He enjoys free time riding motorcycles and spoiling grandchildren.
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