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West Nipissing’s CAO removes his staff from ‘toxicity’ of council

Municipal ‘staff are living through hell,’ councillor laments
20181119 west nipissing city hall winter 1
West Nipissing Town Hall / File photo

Jay Barbeau serves as the chief administrative officer for West Nipissing and part of that role is overseeing municipal staff. On Friday, Barbeau announced his decision that staff would no longer take part in council, committee of the whole, or budget meetings.

Withdrawing staff from these meetings will continue “until such time” that “necessary changes at these meetings” are made that will “ensure staff can perform their duties free of the toxicity and conflict that has been the norm rather than the exception.”

Barbeau explained his position to West Nipissing council via e-mail, and “copied the Minister of Municipal Affairs as well as the Minister of Labour so that they may take corrective action at the earliest possible opportunity.”

“Given that the issue is with our elected body,” he added, “I would hope that the Ontario Government intercede at a level that can ensure decorum and respect.”

See: Ministry makes a house call to West Nipissing council

When BayToday spoke to Barbeau earlier today, he did not want to add additional comments as it was an ongoing human resources issue.

His email to council emphasized that he did “not take this decision lightly” to remove staff, knowing it could add “hardship in delaying meetings” and affect the municipality and “the needs of our electorate.”

However, “given the recent inability of council to meet or finish agendas of the past several months, this action will likely not impact negatively any more than the present situation.”

See: Four West Nipissing councillors skip meeting on Mayor’s motion

Barbeau explained “I have a duty to protect staff from harmful situations which may have psychological and emotional impacts,” and he has noticed staff are becoming affected “to  varying degrees.”

He also noted “our professional staff continue to want to serve the public,” and while he “respects the continued dedication of staff, I must intercede” to protect them.

“Adding to the stress,” Barbeau wrote, “is a letter received by the Corporation that is being blocked by the Mayor and certain council members from being tabled at council in the appropriate manner.”

“It is my understanding that the letter references ‘senior staff’ on allegations that have not been heard,” Barbeau explained, and “staff have no ability to know whether they are the target of an outside legal warning.”

This letter coupled with “the litany of other issues, had created an environment that is becoming untenable,” Barbeau said.

“Staff are living through hell,” councillor Dan Roveda summarized in a March 23rd email to BayToday.

Barbeau explained his hope is to work with the Ministry of Municipal Affairs “in very short order to implement interim solutions that would protect staff from future toxicity,” and plans to discuss the matter in more detail with the province.

After those discussions, Barbeau will “share developments” with council. “I hope to be able to provide options that will satisfy our moral obligations to a workplace free of potential harm to our employees.”

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter who works out of BayToday, a publication of Village Media. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada.

David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

About the Author: David Briggs, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

David Briggs is a Local Journalism Initiative reporter covering civic and diversity issues for BayToday. The Local Journalism Initiative is funded by the Government of Canada
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