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Editorial: City airing its dirty laundry in public is an embarrassment

Public dispute between city’s CAO and a city councillor should never have been allowed to go this far
Tom Davies Square. (File)

The public dispute that has broken out between the city’s CAO, Ed Archer, and Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier is an embarrassment.

First, some background. During a December council meeting, Archer, thinking he was writing a private electronic message to another staff member, called Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier’s behaviour “buffoonish.” The message wasn’t private; it was public, and the CAO had to apologize for the comment.

Montpellier responded by attacking Archer in the media and writing a letter to the prime minister, appealing for intervention on the grounds he was being bullied and that the CAO was a “known slanderer and harrasser.”

Then, the city’s integrity commissioner, Robert Swayze, launched an investigation that found Montpellier should be disciplined by having his council remuneration suspended for two months for “attempting to injure the professional reputation of the CAO.” Council opted to reprimand him instead. 

In the same report, Swayze acknowledged Archer’s insulting comment, but said in his view it was a “technical error” and not a deliberate attempt to sully the councillor’s reputation.

This sniping between an elected official and the city’s top bureaucrat is not only unseemly, it is unbecoming of people we have put in place to represent our interests.

Ed Archer is the city’s chief administrative officer. In business terms, he is the CEO of a massive corporation, one with an annual budget of half a billion dollars. The CAO may be the top boss among city staff, but he is, in essence, an employee of city council, which is, again in business terms, his board of directors. 

They employ him, just as he employs city staff.

For a person in his position to demean and insult one of his employers in private conversation is objectionable enough, but for him to type out that insult and send it electronically to another employee during a public council meeting is supremely unprofessional and demonstrates appallingly bad judgment on Archer’s part.

Council was right to discipline him.

But equally appalling is Montpellier’s reaction. The councillor opted to make a public fuss in the media about the slight, a move that was as unprofessional as Archer’s decision to insult him during a council meeting. The appropriate response would have been to accept the CAO’s apology and move on.

For Montpellier to take it a step further and write a tattletale letter to the prime minister complaining of bullying was, quite simply, childish, as childish as Archer calling him a name.

It was also unnecessary. For one, it is a fruitless, grandstanding gesture. The prime minister is not going to involve himself in a city council scuffle over an insult.

Montpellier had another option. It is called the in-camera meeting. Behind closed doors, councillors are free to speak their minds. The councillor could have achieved the satisfaction he sought by raking Archer over the coals in private and accepting his apology in public. That would have been proper decorum.

Mayor Brian Bigger could have stepped in before it got this far. He could have and should have sat both men down in a room for a private meeting and lay down the law: clear the air and be civil, and put a stop to this embarrassing public dispute.

We look to our elected officials to be a steady hand at the tiller, reliable caretakers of our tax dollars, decision-makers for whom the public’s best interest is a top priority. 

That is especially important as we deal with a public health crisis.

Archer and Montpellier — in fact, all of our elected officials and top bureaucrats — would do well to keep that in mind. 

You are representing our interests. Please act like it.

The editorial board is made up of senior members of the editorial team.


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