The Town of Hawkesbury was hit with $424,959.38 in costs following a decision made almost a year ago to terminate the employment of three employees of the Department of Recreation and Tourism, according to a report received by Hawkesbury town council on May 10.
On June 16, 2020, at a closed session Committee of the Whole meeting, council voted four to three to issue directives to the administration to terminate the employment of three employees. The directives were not part of prior discussions with the administration.
The report received by council on May 10, which was written by Chief Administrative Officer Dominique Dussault, notes the terminations led to further departures, sick leave, and complaints among town staff.
Due to the various cases related to June 16, 2020, the town retained several lawyers for legal advice, harassment investigations, and the preparation of documents.
Three complaints to the Integrity Commissioner were also filed alleging violations of the municipal Code of Ethics.
According to Dussault’s report, one of the reports by former Integrity Commissioner John Saywell was the subject of a lawsuit by Mayor Paula Assaly against the town and the integrity commissioner, in order to obtain a conditional sentence and a sealing of the report. The town won its defense, and negotiations are currently underway on the issue of costs.
At the April 29 council meeting, Dussault announced that the 2021 budget of $137,000 for legal costs in the Department of Human Resources had already been exceeded due to litigation and the administration is currently working on a presentation to council of options for a plan to minimize cost overruns for operations to the end of the year. Dussault noted that the mayor also wants to pursue a judicial review of one of the integrity commissioner’s investigations.
According to a table of the expenses attached to Dussault’s report, it has cost the town $104,449.54 to defend itself against Assaly’s pursuit of a conditional sentence and to have one of the integrity commissioner’s reports sealed. The town won the case, so its costs will be deducted from the amount.
Severance costs associated with the departure of former CAO Daniel Gatien are $93,269.96. The severance costs for the three recreation department employees are $75,969.64. The town has also paid approximately $82,273.77 in salary costs associated with employees taking medical leave following June 16, 2020. Legal fees for the town following that meeting were $35,952.17.
Other legal fees have included $6,219.57 for the cost of a harassment investigation, and $4,459.33 for legal matters involving employment between September and December 2020.
Leadership coaching also cost the town $7,500.
Dussault’s report does not contain indirect costs involving an unspecified internal investigation and grievance resolution, recruitment costs, hours of work spent on managing the files, and increased consultancy following the departure of employees.
There was minimal discussion on May 10 before council voted to receive the report. Councillor Yves Paquette did describe the costs as “unfortunate” and said there are many other needs in the town the money could have been spent on.
In a separate interview with The Review, Mayor Paula Assaly said this was not the first time the Department of Human Resources has exceeded its yearly budget for legal expenses.
“It happened in a previous council when the legal fees for the negotiation of one collective agreement reached $210,000. The town has four different collective agreements,” Assaly said.
The mayor noted that there were unspecified savings to the town because some of the employees who were terminated were not immediately replaced, and that new municipal employees do not start at the top of the salary scale.
Assaly said a complete verification of invoices associated with the various expenses is needed in order to get a more exact understanding of what the costs really are.
“Those numbers have not been checked,” she said.
Assaly said that severance packages are already becoming a significant human resources expense for the town because an estimated 45 per cent of its employees are becoming eligible for retirement. She added that some of the human resources costs are also associated with labour grievances. Assaly emphasized that the coaching costs were specifically approved by council.
“There’s more to it than meets the eye,” said Assaly.