West Nipissing Council was once again halted by a loss of quorum, as four councillors left the Nov. 16 meeting in what they described as an effort to avoid putting the corporation at risk.
Councillors Dan Roveda, Chris Fisher, Leo Malette and Rollie Larabie left the meeting after Roveda’s attempt to amend the agenda and remove the controversial item was defeated. Item L1 was a notice of motion brought forward by Mayor Joanne Savage, requesting to amend section 8.5 of the procedural by-law and the CAO’s job description, basically ensuring that the Mayor and CAO had to meet in person to discuss council agendas rather than exchange by email.
It has been documented that CAO Jay Barbeau refuses to meet in person with the Mayor, insisting that their communication be only in writing, and that there is an ongoing HR issue involving the CAO that has been the subject of in-camera discussions.
The afternoon prior to the meeting, members of council received an email from Director of Corporate Services Alisa Craddock, advising them to be cautious when discussing the notice of motion and warning of possible legal ramifications.
“Proceeding with this discussion, at this time, in this format is problematic,” read the email from Craddock. “I am not saying that you cannot have the discussion; I am cautioning you about timing and about having portions of this discussion in an open meeting. If Council proceeds with the discussion on the notice of motion at tonight’s meeting, please be aware that you are doing so against advice. I will also provide caution to Council that when individual members step beyond their roles or act in bad faith, that the immunity conferred by the Municipal Act no longer applies. Additionally, Council may have already violated our insurance coverage. If you participate in this discussion tonight, please choose your words carefully – you may hear them repeated in court.”
The previous afternoon, council had an allegedly heated closed session meeting regarding two HR matters involving the CAO.
The Tuesday meeting opened with a vote to adopt the agenda. Mayor Savage asked for questions and when there were none, asked if there were any objections. No one raised their hand so the resolution passed. Right after that vote, Coun. Roveda asked to make an amendment to the agenda based on Craddock’s advice. The amendment should have been tabled before the agenda was adopted, but Roveda says he got confused by the order of operations.
“The agenda, the way it was structured, I thought I had to do it after we talked about the resolution for the addendum,” he says. “So I got confused and the mayor used that and jumped all over it to her advantage and disallowed my amendment.”
The mayor argued that the agenda had already been unanimously adopted and sought staff opinion to solidify her stance. “So now, since we voted on that resolution, the vote is done. It should have been introduced at the time when it was asked if any members had any questions, would that be correct?” Savage asked Barbeau.
“It would be except that, from what I can see there was some confusion with respect to what was being voted on,” responded Barbeau. “You could shove it through that way or you could listen and have a look at what he’s indicating, but you’re chairing.”
Mayor Savage ruled they would not vote on Roveda’s amendment at that point, but would discuss whether the item should be removed from the agenda when they got to it. (Asked whether that was proper council procedure in the days that followed, Babeau wrote “the appropriate time to amend agendas is at the adoption of the agenda.”)