A controversy stemming from comments made by Greater Subury CAO Ed Archer during a Dec. 21 city council meeting has landed Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier in some hot water, with the possibility of losing 60 days pay.
Integrity commissioner Robert Swayze handed down his ruling on March 8 after a complaint was filed against Montpellier by Ward 4 Coun. Geoff McCausland on Jan. 26.
The report will be brought before city council on March 23.
In his letter to the integrity commissioner, McCausland alleged that Montpellier "publicly harassed a member of staff and disclosed confidential information from an in-camera meeting", both contrary to the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local Boards.
Montpellier stated in January that he would be pursuing legal action against Archer, accusing the city's chief administrative officer of being a "known slanderer and harasser".
The rift stems from a Dec. 21 meeting of council where Archer called Montpellier's behaviour "buffoonish" in a typed message to another city staffer. Archer reportedly believed the message was sent privately, but it was visible to councillors and anyone else watching the livestream of the meeting.
As a result, Mayor Brian Bigger suspended Archer for one day. Archer also later apologized.
Unsatisfied with the apology and believing Mayor Brian Bigger's decision to suspend Archer for one day was a toothless disciplinary action, Montpellier sent a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, pointing to the resignation of former Governor General Julie Payette amid allegations of workplace harassment and drawing comparisons to what he deemed harassment and bullying on the part of Archer.
Swayze's report concluded that Montpellier's statements, both in the letter to the Prime Minister and comments made in the media were "purposely an attempt to injure the professional reputation of the CAO".
Speaking with Sudbury.com on March 15, Montpellier said he was surprised by what has transpired and didn't think that things would escalate to the level that they had.
"Councillor McCausland decided to complain that I was releasing information from secret meetings," said Montpellier, referring to the in-camera meetings held by city council.
"This is a frame up, if you read the report very carefully I'm being fined in the neighbourhood of $6,600. It's not a suspension, I'm going to not get paid $6,600 but I'm expected to report for work every day."
Montpellier says he will be reporting for his duties as a city councillor regardless of council's decision on whether to suspend his pay for 60 days.
"It stems from an interview with CTV News where I clearly say I can't speak about what goes on in the secret meetings but the subject has been dealt with," said Montpellier.
"The subject was that they were going to deal with the fact that Ed Archer called me a hostile buffoon. What I had released, according to the integrity commissioner, is I said they dealt with it, no more no less."
McCausland says he acted on his own in filing the complaint with the integrity commissioner and that it was about maintaining the city's commitment to the Code of Conduct.
"I believe that we're all accountable in maintaining our commitment to the Code of Conduct; mistakes were made, apologies did follow and whether we're unhappy with the results of a closed meeting or not we have a duty to remain professional regarding the outcomes," said McCausland.
Montpellier stated that during the very same meeting that he's being disciplined for speaking about, McCausland was communicating with members of a Greater Sudbury Politics Facebook group.
"All in the meantime, one of the councillors, screen shots can be seen of him rattling off to 1,100 people on the Internet during that secret meeting," said Montpellier.
"He was talking to them, you're not even supposed to discuss the weather or the fact that you're in one (of these meetings). So it doesn't mean anything to him; he's the one that put in the complaint so it's ok for him but not for me to say the words 'they dealt with it', so I'm not happy."
When questioned about Montpellier's comments, McCausland said that he has relayed a message during a closed meeting.
"I think at one closed meeting I said that we're going to be late getting to regular council; if he has an issue with that then he's welcome to file a complaint with the integrity commissioner," said McCausland.
When it comes to their views on council as a whole, the two are on opposite ends of the spectrum with Montpellier believing council is divided and that this is a move to push him to resign.
"It is a divided council, that's obvious to anybody. I know who's on what side, but I'm not going to get into that, it should be obvious." said Montpellier.
"The intent was or is for me to resign and I believe that it backfired because the intent was to get me out for two months but now they're telling me that I have to go to work and not get paid. So the intent is that, or will they piss me off enough that I'm going to quit and walk away; I'm here to serve my community not to put up with this bull****."
McCausland doesn't feel there is a divide on council and is hopeful that he and Montpellier, along with the rest of council can move past this.
"We've accomplished a lot in the last few years and I've never had any issues working with any staff or any members of council," said McCausland.
"I don't feel that way. I reached out to councillor Montpellier to let him know I had made this complaint so that we could discuss it. I don't think it was anything that either of us wanted to happen but we were able to have a professional respectful conversation about it."
While Swayze's recommendation is to suspend Montpellier's pay for 60 days, the final decision ultimately lies in the hands of council. McCausland says that he doesn't have any interest in seeing punishment doled out, but rather setting the precedent that Montpellier's actions and comments were unacceptable.
"I really don't care about any penalty, that doesn't matter to me," said McCausland. "This is purely a matter of ensuring that we're acknowledging that this is unacceptable according to the Code of Conduct that council adopted. I'm always open to discussion but I don't care about any penalty."
Though disheartened by the entire situation, Montpellier says that he has not soured on the job itself and has every intent to run for re-election in Ward 3 in the 2022 municipal election.
"I still want to be the councillor for Ward 3, as do my constituents," said Montpellier. "I have full intentions to advocate for the citizens of Ward 3."