March 19, 2014

Why was Frank fired? The details remain hazy

As published in The Erin Advocate

It came as quite a shock last May, in the small world of Erin politics, when our big name Town Manager lost the confidence of Town Council and was shown the door – while he was driving home. 

Six months earlier, Frank Miele had come with extensive credentials as a professor at Ryerson and York Universities. He had been Commissioner of Economic Technology Development and Communications for the City of Vaughan, and won prestigious awards in his profession. 

He overcame some initial doubts, since he had worked very briefly as VP at Solmar Developments, which is planning to build houses here.

It was a turbulent time in Town affairs, but Miele appeared to be doing his job. Councillors have been tight-lipped about his dismissal, but some issues are emerging.

The public release of his last report to council, and the revelation that most of it was written by someone else (see Page 1) will get lots of attention. But it appears this was either a minor factor, or not a factor at all, depending on who you ask. 

There was definitely a tense atmosphere at the Town offices, and some staff were unhappy with Miele’s management style. Whether his style was appropriate also depends on who you ask. The background problem, however, has little to do with Miele. 

There is a deep pool of resentment among many residents, over high taxes, high water rates, bad roads, not enough development, fear of development – the list goes on.

Mayor Lou Maieron has tried to be a champion for disgruntled taxpayers, so in political terms, he has a reform mandate. He has failed, however, to build support among the other councillors to achieve his vision of how things should be. The reasons for that will be debated at length during the election campaign.

Hiring Miele was the mayor’s opportunity to bring in a tough-minded economic development expert, to help meet his promise to change things at the Town. He was angry when a majority of councillors decided to fire the man they had recently hired, with no opportunity for the CAO to respond.

When asked if he thought his report, largely copied from another source, was a main factor in his dismissal, Miele said, “I don’t believe so. I think there were some issues with staff and some members of council, basically. It just did not work out.”

When told that councillors had refused to discuss specifics of his dismissal, he said, “They really shouldn’t, because it is one of those HR related issues. I showed up at the meeting to discuss that report, but after I finished the report, they asked me to leave the room. It was midnight and they weren’t calling me in, so I said to them, ‘Can I go home?’ As I was driving back home, the mayor called me, saying, ‘Council has decided to terminate your contract’. What? On what basis?”

When I suggested that the reasons for his dismissal remained a mystery to most people, he said, “I think it had a lot to do with what was actually happening during that period in time.”

At that time, an SSMP Draft Final Report had just been released. There was public concern about a possible $65 million sewage plant and 1,200 new homes from Solmar.

Miele surprised council in April when he took the initiative to bring in the Biglieri Group as consultants, who he expected council would hire to lead peer reviews of the Solmar subdivision studies.

At the April meeting prior to his firing, Miele tried to move beyond the Servicing and Settlement Master Plan process. He proposed sharing costs with developers for the next phases of the Environmental Assessment. Representatives of two developers appeared as delegations to support the motion, but the Transition Erin community group and some councillors felt the process was being “rushed”.

Miele’s recommendations were put off to the May 7 meeting. Instead of approving them, council passed a motion from Councillor Barb Tocher that decisions related to the SSMP be deferred until Council is presented with the completed final SSMP Report.

The motion also said, “Council directs staff that no further collaboration with potential developers in regard to funding or development occur without express direction from the Council of Erin.”

Miele had been saying the SSMP was 95% done, but within two weeks of his firing, SSMP Project Manager Dale Murray of Triton Engineering Services and Water Superintendent Frank Smedley were saying that significant work still needed to be done.

Was Miele’s push on development issues a factor in his firing? Miele himself suggests that it was at least an irritant in his relationship with council.

“I think that members of council were feeling that I was going a little bit too fast for what they would have preferred. When a CAO makes a recommendation as I did in the report to move forward, they can always say, ‘No’. Were there other issues? Perhaps, but only they know about it. I certainly don’t. Nobody made those clear to me.”