Hawkesbury Mayor Paula Assaly said she was not aware of the press conference held on December 6 by councillors Raymond Campbell, André Chamaillard, Robert Lefebvre, and Yves Paquette in response to her allegations that there is a toxic workplace at town hall, and comments regarding previous investigations by the Integrity Commissioner. The Review contacted the mayor after the press conference to give her the opportunity to respond. 

“The ‘toxic climate’ existed within the organization well before the newly-elected council in 2018,” Assaly remarked. 

She said the workplace problems were corroborated by employees and a confidential report was ordered in 2017. She said the departure of certain employees had nothing to do with the mayor and their departures were either a council decision or they decided to leave for other jobs. Assaly said many have left or retired due to the situation at the town hall but would have preferred to stay. 

“These four councillors are very much aware of it, but politically they would rather play politics on the back of employees,” Assaly said.

The mayor contended that Chief Administrative Officer Dominique Dussault was appointed without the usual processes associated with hiring a senior town manager. 

“The councillors who voted in favour of the nomination of Dominique Dussault – without an interview, without any assessment, without a performance evaluation or tests – did so knowing that she had put a complaint against me with the Commissioner of Integrity on November 19, 2020. The councillors knew this was creating a conflict of interest but went ahead anyway with the nomination.” 

Assaly continued to outline her disagreement with the investigation and report of former Integrity Commissioner John Saywell because she was not interviewed as part of the investigation. 

“Everybody is now aware that Commissioner of Integrity Saywell did not question my witnesses or me,” the mayor insisted.

Campbell, Chamaillard, Lefebvre and Paquette have highlighted the costs to the municipality associated with the integrity commissioner’s investigations and related legal proceedings. Assaly offered further explanation of the costs.

“The amount of (approximately) $500,000 includes multiple costs such as termination packages, commissioners’ inquiry – one of which should not have gone forward – mixed with legal fees,” Assaly said. “All these costs are presently being reviewed by me, however most invoices have been redacted, meaning blacked out, so it is not possible to know which services these amounts relate to.” 

Assaly has also noted the investigation by temporary Integrity Commissioner Valerie McGarry was not only against the mayor, but also council as a whole and the COMZAC-BIA. In the communiqué on December 6, the four councillors had stated the investigation was only against the mayor. 

Assaly said Hawkesbury citizens are not naïve, and were aware of the ”toxic climate,” and certain municipal managers abusing their privileges.   

The mayor said Campbell, Chamaillard, Lefebvre, and Paquette are standing in the way of addressing workplace issues. 

“On numerous occasions, I have requested the assistance of successful CAO’s or consultant in organizational development, all of which have been refused by these four councillors who have signed this press communiqué,” Assaly said. “Problems have lasted this long in Hawkesbury because we elect certain members of the council who do not wish to deal with them and that is why the problems are recurrent year after year.”  

“My question to them: What are you so afraid of, or what are you hiding?” 

Assaly said she is striving to look past the difficulties among personnel and councillors and focus on initiatives and projects benefitting the future of Hawkesbury. In a recent interview with ‘The Review’, Assaly said the $1,750,000 retaining wall replacement along Hawkesbury Creek, near the intersection of McGill and Main streets, is nearly complete, and further upgrades are planned for the water treatment plant in 2022. 

Major infrastructure plans for the year ahead include storm and sanitary sewer work on Nelson Street West and repaving on Stevens Street to repair pavement damaged in recent years due to extra truck traffic to the construction site at Hawkesbury and District General Hospital. 

Assaly is optimistic about the new Community Safety and Well-being Plan which is being implemented to assist the Ontario Provincial Police and other social services agencies with responding to needs unique to the community. 

The mayor is optimistic changes made during the past year to the Community Improvement Plan offering more tax incentives for development will yield positive results. She noted the Planning Department is very busy with a series of initiatives. 

Increasing the availability of affordable housing has been a priority of Assaly and the current council. She said the Employment Services Centre of Prescott-Russell and Habitaction are both working with the town on those initiatives, and with the United Counties of Prescott and Russell Department of Economic Development. 

On a related note, the town is awaiting future proposals for the former Christ-Roi school property.  

A future redesign for Confederation Park and the waterfront at Cyr de Lasalle Park is still being planned but is dependent on available funds. 

“We’re still in the budget process,” Assaly said.