Ward 3 Coun. Gerry Montpellier has started the process of taking legal action against Greater Sudbury CAO Ed Archer, accusing the city's chief administrative officer of being a "known slanderer and harasser."
The councillor has sent a letter to the office of the prime minister, pointing to the recent resignation of Governor General Julie Payette amid allegations of workplace harassment and drawing comparisons to what he deems harassment and bullying on the part of Archer.
Though he didn't name Archer directly in his letter, Montpellier does refer to the CAO of Greater Sudbury's actions dating back to the 2017 fire optimization meetings, stating that the CAO was "working with the endorsement of some members of Council (and) proceeded to publicly bully and harass a large number of private citizens and several of our highly valued Volunteer Firefighter employees."
During a contentious public process aimed at improving operations of the city’s fire service, the Sudbury Professional Fire Fighters Association filed harassment complaints against both Montpellier and Ward 2 Coun. Michael Vagnini for their criticisms of the process and their criticisms of then fire chief, Trevor Bain, who ultimately resigned over the fallout from the failed optimization plan.
Speaking with Sudbury.com, the councillor cited a recent incident during a city council meeting 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.
Montpellier however claims that the suspension was a toothless disciplinary action, stating that Archer was never in fact suspended at all.
"The rules were broken again there. Brian Bigger gave him a day off prior to the hearing, prior to the process; that's the same thing as a judge yelling a sentence before he's walking into the courthouse," said Montpellier.
"He's got to pretend that he's disciplined, who's ever heard of a sentence before the trial?"
Montpellier said there has been a history of bullying-type behaviour from Archer, dating back to the fire optimization meetings of 2017, where he says Archer harassed and publicly ridiculed a number of citizens.
"This was on video. He fired approximately 12 volunteer firefighter employees simply for being at some meetings," said Montpellier.
"He then chose to hire a lawyer to pursue citizens outright for objecting to a fire plan; that was all deemed illegal by Weaver Simmons, so that illegal activity was paid for by the taxpayers to pursue councillors and citizens and for that there was no repercussion."
The Ward 3 councillor said he has started legal action, but wouldn't shed any light on the details, noting that it will be a lengthy process.
When asked if there was a path forward that would see him and Archer mend fences, Montpellier was blunt in stating that the relationship with the CAO was "damaged beyond repair."
The frustration for Montpellier comes from what he perceives to be a lack of enforcement on the part of the city, and that bullying and harassment have become part of the culture at city hall, in his view.
"These actions have continued, largely hidden from the public, due to Sudbury’s infamous secret meetings," said Montpellier in his letter to the prime minister, referring to in camera sessions of council, which are a common practice in every community. "They resurfaced again recently in a public written forum. Written bullying, harassing and slandering messages, directed at staff and councillors, openly viewed by the public, these recent attacks committed by the same person."
Montpellier commended the zero-tolerance approach taken at the federal level in regard to Julie Payette's resignation, and says that local MPs and MPPs work diligently to discourage instances of bullying and harassment, but feels like at the municipal level, Sudbury still has a ways to go.
"We in Sudbury still have considerable distance ahead of us when some of municipal council continue endorsing and rewarding the known perpetrator," said Montpellier in his letter.
The councillor stated Archer's actions are part of a pattern, dating back to before he became a part of the executive team with the city of Greater Sudbury.
In the letter, Montpellier made allegations regarding the reasons Archer was let go from his position with the City of Barrie, saying he was “fired … for similar behaviour” to what Montpellier is alleging in Sudbury. However, the reasons for Archer’s departure from Barrie are not public.
Archer held the position of community and corporate services general manager with the city of Barrie and was with the city from 2007 to 2014. A March 4, 2014 article from Simcoe.com reported that Archer was walked out of city hall in 2014, but Barrie CAO Carla Ladd stated that the reasons for Archer's departure were confidential.
The City of Greater Sudbury and Archer would not comment directly on Montpellier's claims, stating, "it would not be appropriate for the City of Greater Sudbury to publicly respond to the matters you've outlined in your request, especially as they are related to an individual employee."