Tehkummah clerk, councillor exit council meeting they deem as illegal

Former Tehkummah Clerk-Treasurer Karen Gerrard, standing in background, addresses council before she was suspended with pay late last year. Expositor file photo photo by Alicia McCutcheon

TEHKUMMAH—The Tehkummah council chambers were again filled to capacity last Tuesday night, October 17, for an emergency meeting called by the reeve that was declared “illegal” shortly thereafter, dissolving into a free-for-all with community members hurling accusations and some members of council passing judgment, almost all of which was aimed at Clerk-Treasurer Karen Gerrard.

The crowd began to assemble at 6:30 pm with more chairs brought in from the nearby fire hall to fit the growing crowd.

“I’m resigning tonight,” Councillor Paul Bowerman mumbled as he made his way into the room. “I can’t take this bullshit anymore,” he added, head in hands.

The meeting was called by the reeve to deal with the issue of the municipal files, which had been removed from the municipal offices the Sunday before by Ms. Gerrard to a ‘secure location,’ as per a procedural bylaw. Until that time, the municipality’s documents had been stored on-site, but not in a secure fashion. The move also caused the reeve to close the municipal offices on Monday, October 16 and Tuesday, October 17.

Reeve Eric Russell called the meeting to order shortly after 7 pm with Councillor Ron Hierons asking for an immediate adjournment as it was an “illegal meeting” due to a lack of notice.

Clerk-treasurer Karen Gerrard agreed with Councillor Hierons, saying it was indeed an illegal meeting and that she would not partake in an illegal activity and stated firmly, “no clerk, no meeting.”

Ms. Gerrard then took the floor and read from a prepared speech that follows here:

“The recent events that have transpired since October 9 has created much confusion, much anxiety and most of all a very unhealthy workplace,” Ms. Gerrard began. “These actions have left employees caught between following direction from their immediate supervisor and/or following direction from individual council members.”

“This certainly leaves much ill effects on all counts and needs to be cleared up as soon as possible.

“I am certainly not opposed to council scheduling meetings or emergency meetings, as long as council, and individual members of council, abide by the established by-laws, practices and procedures that are respectful and professional.

“I believe and hope that it is recognized by members of council that these specific events are certainly not reflective of our agreed bylaws and processes. I am certainly more than prepared to respond to any matters that may be of concern to some individuals.

“In the authorities that have been delegated to me, I have always been available to respond to inquiries from members of council, staff or members of the public in a respectful, tactful and professional fashion. This certainly is not the case in the way these circumstances have been detailed over the last few days and prior. For example, insufficient notice of a meeting and no reason stated for meeting.

“These events have demonstrated a lack of respect for the rules and regulations that govern our specific council as well as a lack of professionalism, understanding and due diligence towards the municipal affairs of this township. It has left our staff to be embarrassed, our citizens in suspicion and unrest due to the lack of respectful communication.

“Given these unfortunate circumstances, the members of this council have left me with no other alternative but to lodge a formal complaint with the Ministry of Labour with regards to making our workplace unsafe and unhealthy for all employees.

“I certainly no longer feel safe working in my workplace, as over the past year, my staff and I have been threatened, harassed, bullied and intimidated by certain members of this council and by some members of the public. I have not pursued legal action in the hopes that the behaviour would stop.

“The last few days prove to all that these behaviours continue to escalate where staff, including myself, feel demeaned and intimidated, and feel our jobs threatened, which is not acceptable.

“I would like to request a ‘without prejudice’ meeting of council, all staff and the Health and Safety Coordinator, with possibly a representative from the Ministry of Labour present, which is open to the public, to review the events that have led to the reeve closing the municipal office to the workers and to the public, and to the calling of special or emergency meetings without reasons stated, especially in doing so contrary to the specific rules and regulation that govern how these proceedings should be scheduled.

“The actions taken by the reeve, with or without the support of individual members of council, has left many questions unanswered and the public is wondering what is happening, which removes our ability to be transparent and attentive to the business.

“I have always acted in the best interest of the municipality and have conducted myself according to legislation, regulations, bylaws and procedures as well as being respectful and professional in all my dealings.

“This conduct leads me to believe that the reeve, and some member(s) of council, are attempting to sever my employment relationship or are looking for ways to ‘get rid of me.’

“Council should consider a formal apology to myself and staff.

“Council owes their residents an explanation.”

During Ms. Gerrard’s speech, Councillor Bowerman attempted to get up and leave, but was overcome with dizziness and had to sit, head down, while Councillor Lorie Leeson and members of the audience tended to the councillor.

Following her address, Ms. Gerrard left the chambers with Councillor Hierons following shortly thereafter.

“Well, citizens, you see who’s running the township!” one audience member yelled out.

Another asked Reeve Russell if it was indeed an illegal meeting. “Well, I put posters up yesterday, I don’t know,” the reeve responded.

“We’re being lied to and it’s ridiculous—cut the head off the snake, I say!” one woman cried.

Another urged calling the police, calling the removal of the municipal documents theft.

“The people want a council that works,” one resident said. “We should have left the room and locked council in until they got their act together. What I witnessed on Sunday night, I’m sick. What you did on Sunday night was totally unprofessional,” he added, addressing the reeve and referencing the Sunday, October 15 emergency meeting that was cancelled just before it was to begin.

“I didn’t have no choice,” Reeve Russell said.

“You should have to pay those wages (for the staff that were paid to stay home on Monday and Tuesday of last week),” he levelled at the reeve.

“You have no idea why I closed the office,” the reeve responded.

“Why?” it was asked.

“For the best of council,” the reeve said.

Rick Gordon posed the question ‘who does the clerk answer to?’ ‘The reeve,’ was the response.

“Never have I seen any respect shown (by the clerk) to that man,” Mr. Gordon responded.

The audience erupted into a cacophony of blame as to why Tehkummah council currently finds itself in what can only be deemed a crisis.

Another audience member asked if the reeve could divulge anything about the municipal files. The reeve said “No, just that they’re in a safe location.”

The audience again took up their call for charges of theft. The reeve said the police were called, but that there was nothing that could be done, only stating that the files were indeed in a safe location.

“This is insane,” another person said. “Our tax dollars have been wasted.”

“I’m tired of this whole friggin’ thing,” Councillor Bowerman said. He shared the story of his designation of being the councillor dedicated to the Manitou Bridge lawsuit file and his wanting to go through the records pertaining to the bridge. The week he asked about the procedure, signing documents out, they were at the office, the following week, when he wanted to do this, they were gone.

“I wasn’t even going to come tonight, I was going to resign,” Councillor Bowerman said, noting that his constituents are mad at him.

“When you get threatened you’re going to be sued for doing the right thing, there’s something wrong with the system,” he continued. “If you guys want to get rid of us, then do it. I just wanted to tell the truth but some people don’t want to hear it.” The councillor suggested the residents of Tehkummah were not backing their councillors to which someone responded while that might be true, “we need a council that works together.”

A woman in the audience questioned why council would have hired Ms. Gerrard without having done a background check. “It’s all your fault,” she told council.

“We feel like there’s nothing we can do,” another person said.

“I think everyone needs to resign,” someone added.

The audience then began to call for Ms. Gerrard’s dismissal with accusations then levelled at Councillor Ron Hierons for helping the clerk-treasurer to move the files from the municipal office.

Councillor Leeson recounted the story of seeing Ms. Gerrard’s vehicle at the municipal office that fateful Sunday with more calls for dismissal erupting from the group.

“We all know there’s a clique here,” Councillor Leeson said. “You guys aren’t blind; you can all see who’s in cahoots with who.”

“You know who’s trying to cause trouble,” she added. “They think they’re fooling us but they’re not.”

“And that’s what makes me angry!” someone yelled in response.

It was pointed out that Councillor Hierons had been in possession of the speech read by Ms. Gerrard, an observation made by a citizen who had been seated behind him in the chambers before he left. Another said that one other person in the room had a copy of the letter too, pointing out Jim Fawcett. The group then set its sights on Mr. Fawcett, calling on him to explain why he had a copy of the address. Mr. Fawcett said he would gladly hand it over to anyone wishing to see it, even suggesting copies be made, but still the angry calls for ‘why?’ still rang out.

“Because he’s in the clique, that’s why,” Reeve Russell said.

The Expositor contacted the Ministry of Municipal Affairs concerning a number of topics that were raised, including emergency meetings. According to the Municipal Act, 2001, Section 240 b) “upon receipt of a petition of the majority of the members of council, the clerk shall call a special meeting for the purpose and at the time mentioned in the petition.” Tehkummah does not have a procedural bylaw in place for any further stipulations regarding emergency meetings.

“If any person believes that a meeting was closed improperly, or did not adhere to the local procedure bylaw, they may wish to make a complaint to their local meeting investigator,” said Lee Alderson, communications branch, Ministry of Municipal Affairs. “Once local processes are exhausted, or if your municipality has not appointed a meeting investigator, the Ontario Ombudsman may conduct an investigation.”