Letter to the editor 1, March 23, 2020

Saint-Lazare Council files sanction against Director General

Dear Editor,

After reading the aforementioned article appearing in last week's The Journal, I am writing to you to express my concern regarding some aspects of Saint-Lazare council's decision regarding its Director General (DG). First, however, allow me to explain my perspective. I am a retired administrator with over 35 years’ experience in the para-public sector – the last five years of which I served as DG of the English Montreal School Board.

I am a resident of Saint-Lazare and do not know the DG (Mr. Serge Tremblay) either in a professional or a personal capacity. My work experience has included significant work with elected officials – most recently at a school board which is currently under trusteeship for, among other things, the inability of some elected commissioners to understand and accept the respective roles of governance and administration. After reading last week's article, I feel that this is a cautionary tale for a number of reasons.

Firstly, good governance practices dictate that the central point of communication between governance (i.e.elected officials) and administration (in Cities and Town) is between the Mayor and the DG. The Mayor speaks for council and directs administration through the DG.

The situation in Saint-Lazare seems to point to a divergence from this best practice. Imagine if you had multiple bosses giving conflicting feedback and directives – it is not only dysfunctional but also demoralizing. How can the DG’s performance be praised on the one hand by the mayor, and deplored on the other hand by five members of council? There is a fundamental tool used by most organizations to prevent this situation called performance appraisals based on annual, measurable performance objectives that should be set by council for the DG and reviewed in retrospect at least once a year.

My other concern is with regard to the fact that the mayor is very satisfied with the DG's work and that the latter is seemingly appreciated by those people that he manages. I am sure that in the event that the DG had significant difficulties in his relationships with town personnel that this would have already come to light in a variety of ways. Staff perspectives in this regard could also be assessed through independent and confidential means.

Assuming, however, that these relationships with town staff are healthy then the actions being undertaken by five municipal councillors are very troubling. These elected officials' actions are, in my opinion, on a slippery slope that can easily lead to the filing of workplace harassment claims by the DG. In Quebec, as well as in other jurisdictions, workplace harassment laws and jurisprudence have developed over the past decade to increasingly recognize the rights of workers to a safe workplace, free of psychological harassment.

In the absence of objective evidence of mismanagement, incompetence or inappropriate behaviour on the part of the DG, the actions being undertaken by the five councillors in question place the Town of Saint-Lazare at risk for legal action by the DG for workplace harassment, defamation of character, or worse.

Having personally witnessed cases of this nature in my career, I can attest to these situations being very costly to an organization, and to taxpayers, as well as being extremely demoralizing to staff. The five municipal councillors in question should also be aware, if they are not already, that while their actions as elected officials are covered under professional civil liability insurance, such coverage can be set aside in the event that it is proven that they acted in bad faith in their dealings with the DG. If these councillors are being advised by a third party, then perhaps they should seek a second opinion.

And finally, the admission by these five councillors that they, '”…had been working on this resolution for quite some time,’ coupled with the fact that the mayor was kept in the dark about its existence until the day of the special meeting of council does not r

reflect a level of maturity that I expect from my councillors regarding a matter of such import. To witness the display of such partisan politics during a public crisis – when we expect our public servants to go the extra mile to protect us – is a disgrace.

Robert A. Stocker