Richmond Warden resigns as residents push for provincial intervention

ARICHAT: Exactly a week after municipal council fired the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO), Richmond County’s Warden stepped down.

During a committee-of-the-whole meeting of Richmond Municipal Council Monday night in Arichat, Warden Jason MacLean announced his resignation. He will continue as District 5 councillor.

“In recent weeks, this council has been struggling with the ability to function effectively,” MacLean said in a letter to council. “Following logical processes seems to have been replaced with unorthodox approaches, embarrassing circumstances and an obsession to exert power, disregarding process and respectfulness.”

MacLean took aim at the three councillors – District 2 councillor Alvin Martell, District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher, and Deputy Warden Brian Marchand – who voted to terminate Kent MacIntyre’s contract as CAO.

“My motive for running in the last election was to be a part of positive change for Richmond County,” his letter states. “I am a strong believer in due process and thinking things through. I pride myself on the ability to get along well with others and establish positive working relationships. In my opinion, this has proven to be a challenge with the majority of this council.”

As a councillor MacLean explained he is in a better position to freely debate issues.

“I think my role at this point is to hold the three councillors who have hijacked this council accountable,” MacLean’s letter states. “Since three councillors have decided they will act independently from this warden, maybe a different warden would get the common courtesy of being informed of important council decisions.

“In the past four weeks, I have been repeatedly blindsided by rogue motions and kept in the dark on matters of the utmost importance; yet expected to be the spokesperson with absolutely no insight on the intentions of council.”

This comes as a group opposing the CAO’s firing is circulating an on-line petition attached with more than 100 names, while they and others are sending letters to the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA) asking that Richmond Municipal Council be dissolved, and an interim council appointed.

On April 5, Cape Breton-Richmond MLA Alana Paon asked Minister of Municipal Affairs Chuck Porter if he is concerned with the situation in Richmond County and whether he has directed staff to assist. Paon said she has received a “number of inquiries” from constituents.

“Earlier this week, the County of Richmond dramatically fired its Chief Administrative Officer in a vote that caught the community off guard,” Paon told the house. “The warden is displeased and has openly questioned the future of the governance of Richmond council.”

Porter responded that the department will help when and if called upon.

“We are certainly aware of this issue, I think the entire province is…,” Porter said.

On April 4, during an emergency meeting of Richmond Municipal Council, it was announced that Department of Finance revenue manager Don Marchand will be interim CAO.

Boucher introduced the motion to appoint the interim CAO, which was seconded by Martell and supported by the deputy warden.

District 1 councillor James Goyetche also supported the motion.

“I will be supporting this motion in order to move forward as a council, but I don’t agree with the process by which it was done,” Goyetche told council.

After getting clarification from the deputy warden that Don Marchand had been approached to accept the position, MacLean questioned why he was left out of that conversation.

“So what I’m hearing is that the warden of council was not made aware of that discussion, nor was part of that discussion and is finding out that information – after he was been approached – for the first time, tonight,” MacLean stated.

MacLean also wanted to know how the same councillors who voted to end MacIntyre’s contract, and did not show up to the audit committee meeting on April 3, were able to schedule the April 4 special meeting only hours before it was supposed to start.

“My issue is that, whether I’m the warden or whether I’m not the warden, and whether in people’s opinion, I’m doing a good job or not doing a good job, I really don’t think that it’s fair to provide – the spokesperson for council, the chairperson for council – nine hours advanced notice before an emergency meeting,” MacLean stated. “To go along on the heels of a discussion taking place for an interim CAO which I find out about tonight after those discussions have already happened, pretty much when a decision is already made, likely an offer has been made and I’m finding out about it tonight. Do I have issues with that, of course I do!”

In acknowledging the “strong comments” he has made to the media and the DMA, MacLean was unapologetic.

“Have I made comments of dysfunction, I absolutely have, do I stand by my comments of dysfunction, I absolutely do,” MacLean said to applause from most of those in attendance.

Martell then introduced a motion, which was seconded by Boucher, that council authorize the Chief Financial Officer to pay-out the prorated vacation pay amount, issue a Record of Employment and immediately cancel long-term disability coverage for the former CAO.

Boucher then introduced a motion, which was seconded by Martell, asking the municipal solicitor prepare a termination letter for the former CAO. The correspondence would include a choice between a lump sum payment, or a salary continuation based on the terms of MacIntyre’s contract. Under that contract, the municipality can terminate employment, without cause, by providing, in lieu of notice, three months of salary for each year of employment, plus one month for each year after the first. MacIntyre was on the job for approximately 15 months.

Although both motions passed by 3-2 votes, MacLean and Goyetche voted against the motions because they do not support MacIntyre’s termination.

MacLean said the information councillors wanted was going to be discussed during the April 3 audit committee meeting. Because he was denied an opportunity to explain the sundry account, the warden argued that the former CAO was terminated “with cause.”

“…We’re saying that the former CAO was let-go without cause, that’s my issue,” MacLean told council. “We had a process in place where the major concerns that councillors had were going to be addressed within days of the termination. So the person who can speak to that best, no longer has the opportunity to do that.”

The deputy warden responded that his concerns were about the “roadblocks” the former CAO was putting up.

“There were concerns about not being able to get information on the status of that account, which leads me to believe he knew that account was over-budget before that March 11 [committee-of-the-whole] meeting,” Marchand said.

During a special meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on April 1 in Arichat, councillors voted 3-2 to terminate MacIntyre’s contract.

Boucher introduced the motion to immediately remove MacIntyre from his position, following a two-hour in-camera session to discuss a personnel matter.

Marchand asked that MacIntyre turn-over any municipal items (like keys), or equipment (including phones and laptops) before he left the municipal building at the conclusion of the meeting. Boucher then introduced another motion, seconded by Marchand and supported by Martell, which was also approved, that requested “the CAO be escorted to his office to pick up his personal items.”

MacLean and Goyetche voted against both motions.

Before the votes were held on April 1, council reviewed information on the 2018-2019 sundry budget account. Marchand told council the account was supposed to be $27,000 but was over-budget and increased to $69,850.

In responding to public questions during the April 4 special meeting, Marchand explained that the account is in default.

“There is no cash in that account,” the deputy warden responded. “We overspent that account, that line item is going to show. We budgeted $27,000 of your tax dollars and we spent $62,000.”

In response to repeated questions about the sundry account, Marchand said they identified a non-budgeted expenditure of $10,925 for “a project that never happened.”

The deputy warden said he requested information about the sundry account after the March 11 committee-of-the-whole meeting when the former CAO told representatives of Richmond County tourism groups there was money available in the account.

Marchand said his continued requests for information on the sundry account went unanswered. Then during the regular monthly meeting of council on March 25, Martell requested the information.

But when Marchand requested that council direct the CAO to instruct the Chief Financial Officer to print and distribute computer-generated copies of the sundry budget account to all councillors during the March 25 meeting, the warden ruled that motion out of order.

The deputy warden told council that after “eight months” of having requests for invoices ignored by the CAO, he was not willing to wait any longer.

During that same meeting, MacIntyre explained that he received an e-mail after the March 11 meeting and responded at the time that the sundry account information would be provided during discussions of the administrative budget. He noted that the sundry account does not impact current budget deliberations.

MacIntyre told council he consulted with the DMA and was told the audit committee is the proper place to discuss that budget item.