As published in The Erin Advocate
A confidential plan to reform Town of Erin operations, which former CAO Frank Miele discussed with council on the day he was fired last May, has been made public by the Information and Privacy Commissioner of Ontario (IPCO).
It has also come to light that the document was not written primarily by Miele, but was originally created by Lance Thurston, Chief Administrative Officer for the County of Grey, as a plan for that municipality.
Release of the document was requested by Erin resident Bruce Hood, but Closed Meeting Investigator Norm Gamble ruled last September that since a majority of Town Councillors considered it part of Miele’s personnel record, it should stay private. Hood appealed that decision to the IPCO and was recently given access.
Emergence of the two documents has sparked disagreement about when councillors learned of the copying, and whether it played a role in Miele’s dismissal after only six months on the job.
Miele admits that he used the Thurston report as a “template”. He replaced references to Grey County with Town of Erin, deleted some sections, wrote some new sections and presented it as his own. He said Thurston was a friend who had given permission for this.
“We don’t have to re-invent the wheel, especially when resources are very, very minimal,” said Miele, who recently submitted his nomination papers to run for a York Regional Councillor seat, representing Vaughan.
“I cleared it with the individual ahead of time. I said, ‘Can I use your report, and just amend it to reflect some of the local issues?’… It’s not unusual, I don’t believe.”
Thurston was away from his office and could not be reached for comment. The report is written in a casual, first-person style, which Miele did not alter. A side-by side comparison shows that less than 20% of Miele’s report appears to be new text. At the time Thurston wrote his report, Miele was CAO in Meaford, which is in Grey County.
The Town of Erin is not publishing Miele’s report. The Thurston report is available at www.grey.ca, on their Corporate Strategic Plan page. Download with these links the Thurston Report or the Miele Report. See the related story on the financial implications of the firing, and my column on other factors.
Miele was urging a series of reforms in the areas of strategic planning, economic development, branding and marketing, a revitalized web site, an operational review, multi-year work plans and budgeting, an asset management plan, community engagement, a push for service excellence, a resident survey and “a more proactive approach” to leadership development and succession planning.
“If it tells you what you need, does it matter where it came from?” said Mayor Lou Maieron.
Miele’s text notes “very low staff morale” and a poor working relationship between council and staff that he found “surprising and disappointing”. He says there are “staff behavioural issues to be addressed” and a need for more respect among co-workers and management.
“A positive work environment is negatively affected when individuals are spoken to without respecting their dignity and position,” he said in the report. Looking back now, Miele said he enjoyed his time in Erin.
“I was hoping to bring Erin to a different era of professionalism, and moving it forward, because it has major challenges before it,” he said. “I had some very clear ideas as to what I think could have taken place, but obviously I was going one direction, and council was going in a different direction, and that’s fair enough. That’s what democracy is all about.”
The mayor said Miele should have been given an opportunity to answer any allegations or concerns, especially since council had gone through a long and costly process to find CAO candidates.
“He was not given a fair chance,” said Maieron. “I thought he was doing a decent job for us. Is there anything in the report that does not promote the advancing of Erinism?”
Councillor Barb Tocher said Miele wanted the report handled in closed session, and she favoured keeping the document confidential because council did not want to “adversely affect” his reputation.
“It has a lot of good ideas in it. It’s not that the ideas can’t be used down the road, but the document as a whole, we felt it was inappropriate to use it.,” she said, and believes the issue of copying did not affect the dismissal decision.
“It was not a factor,” she said. “It came to council’s attention that the document was not his own, after the decision had been made. What it did was reinforce our decision, when we did become aware of it. It was very closely after, but it was not part of the reason.”
Mayor Maieron disagrees with Tocher’s statement, saying council was aware of the issue on May 7. Councillor John Brennan recalls that there were “whispers” about the issue before it became definitely known.
Councillor Deb Callaghan declined to discuss the situation, other than to say, “The report was not a factor in the whole situation.” Councillor Jose Wintersinger could not be reached for comment.
Maieron noted that the Closed Meeting Investigator had said the four other members of council considered the report a Human Resources issue, and that only he disagreed, favouring its release. He said it should not have been treated as a part of a performance review.
Councillor Brennan said it became a Human Resources issue when Miele “offered the report as part of his performance review”, even though “it was not what council was looking for”.
“It was not the content of the report, it was the deception involved in offering it,” said Brennan. “That’s the only bad thing about it. There are some points in there, where you’d say, those are things we’d like to do. If you ask me my personal preference, I would have released it the next day. It certainly would have taken a lot of heat off.”
Tocher said she had expected a report that would describe how Miele had been working towards goals set out by councillors in individual interviews.
“He was going to do a First 100 Days Report, it was to be part of his performance review,” she said. “This is the document that was given to us, and it did not address the specific questions that we had asked of him.”
She said this was just one factor among many in the decision.
“We didn’t find him to be the right fit for the Town of Erin. That’s not to say he wouldn’t be for someone else.”