July 03, 2013

Ironmonger new CAO after mayor walks out

As published in The Erin Advocate

Clerk Kathryn Ironmonger was appointed as Erin's new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) last week, after Mayor Lou Maieron clashed with fellow councillors over procedures and walked out of the meeting in protest.

Councillor John Brennan took over as chair, and after a lengthy closed-door session, said that council had examined the 2012 CAO search, "to see if a suitable candidate could be found without incurring a lot of extra time and cost."

"A candidate was identified, an agreement was drawn up and reviewed by the Town's HR legal firm, the offer was made and accepted, and I am pleased to announce that Kathryn Ironmonger is our new CAO / Town Manager," said Brennan.

The previous process led to the hiring of Frank Miele, who started the job last October. Following an in-camera discussion in May, the mayor announced that Miele was no longer CAO of the Town of Erin. He gave no further details at that time, since it was confidential personnel matter.

Before leaving the meeting last Tuesday, the mayor revealed for the first time that Miele had been "terminated" by council.

"We just went through a process, that we terminated a CAO, and that process didn't work out very well," he said.

Maieron was immediately interrupted by Councillor Barb Tocher on a point of order, and cautioned by the clerk, who said, "You are disclosing stuff that you should not be discussing in open session."

The mayor carried on, however, saying "the CAO was let go, whichever way you want to put it."

"I can't believe you just did that," said Tocher.

The meeting had started with the mayor contending that the meeting itself was "improper", since it was originally scheduled as a Council-Staff Working Meeting, at which decisions would not be made. It had been re-designated as a Regular Meeting where decisions could be made, but Maieron said proper notice of this had not been given to the public and media.

Ironmonger said notice was proper, since the same notice applies to both types of meetings. Councillor John Brennan said that while council has chosen to not normally make decisions at these working meetings, it maintains the legal right to do so.

"This is always a regular council meeting," said Brennan afterwards. "The idea of a staff-council meeting was that we would try not to - we didn't want a third council meeting [per month]. Did we ever formally say we'd never pass a resolution? No."

The mayor had tried to have a new item put on the early section of the agenda, to reconsider the selection process, but the clerk added that item to the end of the agenda as a Notice of Motion, coming after the bylaw to appoint a new CAO. While the clerk prepares agendas, council must vote to approve them at the start of each meeting.

The mayor's motion to defer the CAO appointment to the next regular council meeting on July 16 found no seconder. Instead, in a recorded vote, they approved the agenda with only Maieron opposed.

He said that the clerk had "no authority" to place his item at the end of the agenda, but after the meeting, Ironmonger said she followed proper protocol in doing so. The item called for reconsideration of a process that was already in progress, which normally requires a Notice of Motion for the matter to be dealt with at the next meeting, she said.

Justification for converting the meeting to Regular status lies with the deferral of confidential business from a previous closed session, to the closed session of last week's meeting, said Brennan. Ironmonger said she had clear direction from at least three council members to put the business on last week's agenda.

At issue is whether council made a decision in closed session to hire internally, rather than follow a more lengthy process with a recruiting firm. Agreements made behind closed doors must normally be confirmed with a public vote, but Maieron said there was no resolution passed by council about the selection process.

"The process should have been an open council item," he said. "We are about to pass very serious bylaws and virtually we have excluded the public from knowing that."

"Lou, you're pretending you don't know what's going on and you do - you are part of it," said Tocher. "Don't ask those questions in public when you know they can't be answered."

"We went in closed session where I identified potential candidates - I'm not naming them," said Maeiron. "Are you telling me the selection process for moving on to the new CAO was done in closed session? I have tried to put something on the agenda to protect council, so that the process was open, transparent and accountable."

Councillor Tocher said that according to written advice from the Town's lawyer, council can choose not to discuss that process publicly. Maieron said he had a lengthy discussion with the lawyer on the matter, but Tocher said it was improper of him to do so without council permission.

"Council members do not have the ability to directly speak with consultants," she said.

Maieron then discussed how former CAO Frank Miele had left his job.

Later, after leaving the council table and the closed session had started, Maieron was asked if he intended to stay and observe the final part of the meeting.

"I know the outcome - I've got better things to do," he said.

Ironmonger has 30 years of experience in municipal administration, more than 20 of them in Erin. She was Clerk-Administrator for the Village of Erin, then Clerk in the amalgamated Town of Erin. She served as Acting CAO / Town Manager after Lisa Hass resigned last year, and more recently since the departure of Miele.

Like Miele, Ironmonger will have responsibility for Economic Development, though the idea of hiring someone for this work, perhaps part-time, has been discussed. The vacant position of Clerk will now be posted internally.