The recent firing of former Richmond Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Kent MacIntyre has been a hot topic of discussion around the region.
A special meeting of Richmond Municipal Council on April 1 in Arichat ended with councillors voting 3-2 to immediately terminate MacIntyre’s contract with the Municipality of the County of Richmond.
Following a half-hour of discussion, then a two-hour in-camera session to discuss a personnel matter, District 4 councillor Gilbert Boucher quickly introduced the motion to fire the CAO. His motion was immediately seconded by District 2 councillor Alvin Martell and fully supported by Deputy Warden Brian Marchand.
A shocked Warden Jason MacLean and District 1 councillor James Goyetche voted against the motion.
The warden could not understand why the motion was being made since the CAO planned to turn-over all financial details during a meeting of the municipal audit committee that was scheduled for April 3.
Goyetche said he was “very disappointed” by the motion made after, he said, a consensus was reached during the closed council session.
As part of the motion, 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 knocked the wind out of the public gallery: “I move that the CAO be escorted to his office to pick up his personal items and if he has anything else in there, to make an appointment in the next day or two.”
According to the deputy warden, he has been seeking invoices from the CAO for the past eight months, to no avail.
After a March 11 meeting of the committee-of the-whole, Marchand asked for information on the sundry account. This arose as a result of MacIntyre’s assertion that there was money available to send Richmond County tourism groups to the Saltscapes Tourism Expo in Halifax from those miscellaneous funds, after Martell told representatives from the groups that he examined the budget and could not find any means of meeting their request.
During the March 25 regular monthly meeting, Martell and Marchand again asked for information on the sundry budget account. After Marchand made a motion that the information be disclosed during the meeting, the warden ruled it out of order.
During that same meeting, the former CAO 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. MacIntyre said the sundry account has no impact on the current budget.
Although Marchand responded that the information does impact current budget deliberations, MacIntyre told council the appropriate place and time for such disclosure was during the meeting of the municipal audit committee, which he said, was confirmed by the Department of Municipal Affairs (DMA).
Before the votes were held on April 1, council reviewed information on the 2018-2019 sundry budget account. Marchand told council “more discussion” was needed since he learned the account was supposed to be $27,000 but increased to $69,850.
During an emergency meeting on April 4 to announce that Department of Finance revenue manager Don Marchand will be interim CAO, the deputy warden noted that his concerns were about the “roadblocks” the former CAO was putting in front of him while he sought information.
In responding to public questions during this same meeting, Marchand explained that the sundry account is in default and was closed as a result of being overdrawn by more than $42,000. In response to more questions, Marchand said they identified a non-budgeted expenditure of $10,925 for “a project that never happened.”
The story took another unexpected turn on April 8 when MacLean announced his resignation as warden.
In a letter to council explaining his decision, MacLean took aim at the three councillors – Marchand, Martell and Boucher – who voted to terminate MacIntyre’s contract. He claimed the three have “an obsession to exert power, disregarding process and respectfulness.” The former warden charged he has “been repeatedly blindsided by rogue motions and kept in the dark on matters of the utmost importance.”
Although council voted to have municipal auditors Grant Thornton review and report back to them about the sundry account during the April 8 meeting, it appears some in the community have already made up their minds. While a portion of Richmond County residents do support the CAO’s termination, there are other residents in staunch disagreement.
Currently one group is sending letters to the DMA demanding it dissolve the current council and appoint qualified people to run the municipality. Another group is circulating an on-line petition pushing for a plebiscite on whether MacIntyre should have been fired. The group is also lobbying for a special municipal election this fall in Richmond County. This was assisted by 15 former and current municipal councillors who sent a letter to the department requesting its intervention in the governance of Richmond County.
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. Porter responded that the department will help when and if called upon.
Based on that answer and other statements from the department, it’s clear there is no wish to intervene, other than to provide guidance.
It was shocking that such a drastic move was made so publicly, but MacIntyre has no one else to blame for his lack of full and timely financial disclosure.
After months with no explanations on invoices, weeks of not receiving sundry account information, then to finally find out that the account in question was more than $42,000 over-budget, he put the councillors in a position where they felt they had no choice but to act, and do so immediately.
Whether that had to be done on April 1 is debatable. Since the municipality is right in the middle of budget deliberations, has many projects ongoing or close to their start, and considering the mountain of other municipal business to conduct, that wasn’t the perfect time.
But MacIntyre’s arguments that the account information would have been released during the audit committee meeting on April 3 are weak. If MacIntyre waited to respond to other requests, why should anyone believe he was going to completely fulfill that request at that time or be sufficiently forthcoming?
Then there’s the potential for MacIntyre to launch a lawsuit, which along with a wrongful dismissal suit launched in January by a former municipal employee, could end up costing Richmond County taxpayers a tidy sum.
To see MacIntyre facing the firing squad so publicly was difficult to watch. His embarrassment at the conclusion of the April 1 meeting – as he was told to walk to his office, remove his items, and then quickly exit the building – was palpable, and there was a collective shock among those at the meeting, including from some on council, that this was even taking place. This was ugly, cold, and regrettably public.
If those who pulled the trigger were hoping to avoid the ugliness that enveloped the municipality three years ago, they were wrong, and while they did have good reasons for terminating MacIntyre’s contract, perhaps doing it publicly might not have been the best course of action.