Renfrew – It appears the rumors whispered among some residents of Renfrew are true.

During last week’s regular council meeting, Reeve Peter Emon’s Notice of Motion calling for the immediate removal of Councillor John McDonald from committee assignments was defeated, and for the first time it exposed the deep animosity and mistrust among council members.

The inability of the seven-member council to work out their personal differences while trying to repair fallout from the financial disaster of the Ma-te-Way expansion project which might normally be confined to Closed Session meetings suddenly entered the public arena.  

Those underlying, and at times bitter personal differences, became public when some councillors questioned the true motive behind Reeve Emon’s motion demanding disciplinary sanctions against Coun. McDonald.

Prior to Mayor Tom Sidney recognizing Reeve Emon to speak to his motion, Coun. McDonald stepped away from the council table and took a seat among the 14 visitors in the gallery. In the same fashion,, Reeve Emon had stepped away from the council table during the April 9 meeting before Coun. McDonald was about to read his motion requesting council’s support for a similar motion against Reeve Emon. In both cases, neither one took part in the respective debates.

During that council meeting, Coun. McDonald introduced two separate motions requesting the removal of both Mayor Sidney and Reeve Emon from all committee appointments. Both motions passed by a 5-1 margin and Councillor Kyle Cybulski’s motion demanding the immediate resignation of Mayor Sidney also passed 5-1.

Mayor Sidney refused to resign, just as he did when Coun. McDonald’s non-confidence motion against the mayor passed at the January 30 council meeting.

Alleged Inaccurate Statements 

Reeve Emon, who has served three consecutive terms as reeve and has over 36 years municipal experience (including six terms as warden of Renfrew County and mayor of Greater
Madawaska Township), read from a prepared statement and provided several statements made by the rookie councillor which he referred to as either false or misleading.

He began his explanation when he delivered a not-so-subtle message to the other rookie councillors (Jason Legris, Andrew Dick, Kyle Cybulski and Clint McWhirter) when he inferred they were likely busy on the phone discussing strategy among themselves prior to the meeting.

“Nobody wants to bring forward to council a motion about a colleague and your friend,” Reeve Emon began. “It takes the actions of one to reflect poorly on the other six members. Misleading council, and the public is one such action which reflects poorly on all of council and the corporation.”

Based on their facial expressions and body language, the four councillors appeared annoyed during Reeve Emon’s eight-minute oral report. 

“Number one is when he stated I placed the town in a situation whereby in August 2018 an employee was wrongfully terminated,” he said. “I would need to see that finding and he also said the town faced a $103 million lawsuit and again, I would like him to provide that filing.”

He told Coun. McDonald he has documentation countering his statements which he described as “false.” He said when the town and former fire chief Guy Longtin agreed to an undisclosed settlement, Mr. Longtin agreed the town negotiated in good faith. He also agreed his termination was carried out in good faith as he understood the town acted to protect the interests of the corporation and its residents.

“Number two is he stated I took a hands-off approach to the (recreation) director and allowed a director to leave, retire, and access and enjoy his two-year payout,” he said. “This statement is false and there are no instances where I took a hands-off approach to this director and I believe there is no information confirming this false statement as to payout.”

He questioned Coun. McDonald’s memory stating the director actually retired after Coun. McDonald and others were sworn in and he was a member of the new governing body. Reeve Emon said his fellow councillor took an active role in the discussions regarding the retirement issue.

“Number three the councillor stated there have been numerous human resources and financial failures over a long period of time and again no information was offered,” he told council.

He claimed the fourth inaccuracy was the statement “that I enabled an unqualified and renegade director to remain in a position of power and influence for years.”

He said at one time or another, all former directors appeared before the Human Resources Committee and once again he challenged the councillor to produce any evidence to prove he failed to take any action against the director or any staff member after he was notified of any substantial issues.

Reeve Emon referenced Coun. McDonald’s claim the reeve took no action between August and November 2022 when he learned of an $8 million overage on the Ma-te-Way expansion project.

“Again, he was inaccurate,” Reeve Emon said. “I met with the CAO and we made a bid to reorganize staff and free up resources to deal with Ma-te-Way. Coun. McDonald was given that information previously and displays a lack of memory which is worrisome.”

He also referred to the June 2022 review of the CAO’s annual Goals and Objectives that he and council approved. He said specific items in the CAO’s plan included development of policies to motivate, develop or terminate staff and to develop a common corporate template to be used when directors appear before council with monthly written reports.

The three areas described by Reeve Emon were among 49 findings provided to council by WSC Consulting following the release of their audit and review of the entire Ma-te-Way project and many of the findings involved the former recreation director who was initially in charge of the capital project. The 96,000 square foot expansion of the centre (now the myFM Centre) currently has a projected cost of $35 million which is $17 million over budget leaving Renfrew taxpayers on the hook for repayment of the overage.

He said a sixth example of misleading statements concerned an allegation the former director had a stormy employment history and Reeve Emon, chair of the HR committee, failed to take any action to address the director’s actions. He again challenged Coun. McDonald to provide written documentation highlighting the alleged actions and Reeve Emon’s indifference when presented with complaints of the former director’s “renegade” actions.

He concluded his explanation stating had Coun. McDonald approached him at any time seeking clarification or insight for his list of allegations, he would have gladly shared whatever he was legally allowed to divulge. He added there are minutes of 2020 and 2021 council meetings documenting his attempts to be a regular participant in the former Senior Management Team (SMT) meetings where he wanted to introduce mandatory monthly written reports to council as part of the desired transition to a CAO model of governance.

Although his attempts failed at the time, the town commissioned an external consultant to review the SMT model. The result was the “Fournier Report” and he inferred the report validated his previous failed attempts to eliminate the SMT model and install the town’s first CAO to oversee staff and policy development.

Fellow Councillors React

Over the last year, a trend has developed whereas Reeve Emon and Mayor Sidney are often outvoted on contentious issues by the five new councillors, including removing both men from committee assignments and two motions of non-confidence against Mayor Sidney.

Coun. Legris took offence to Reeve Emon’s motion and said none of the five councillors took any joy when they sanctioned the mayor and reeve, but were acting on the information provided in the Ma-te-Way review. He suggested Reeve Emon’s motion was a form of payback.

“It’s sad to say but it seems like this (is like it) happened to me so I want to do this to your situation,” he said as he gestured to the visitor’s gallery. “We’re all adults and we work for these people right here. We need to stop playing this game and get down to work and move on.”

Coun. Dick made an impassioned plea for all of council to move past this episode and he blamed the Ma-te-Way fiasco for the bitter feelings and asked everyone to move forward.

“I really want this to be over…I know we don’t have to like each other, but we definitely can work together,” he said. “All seven of us have the exact same motive here and we all want to fix what happened out at Ma-te-Way. We all love this town and we all want to work for this town.”

Coun. McWhirter, who served on two previous councils more than a decade ago, agreed with Coun. Legris the timing and optics of Reeve Emon’s motion is questionable and he is hopeful no further motions of this type are introduced.

“It is time to either work together or come up with another solution because the optics with this is…just so…obvious,” he said. “That’s all I will say to this so that I am not the next target.”

Reeve Emon responded to the previous statements and agreed his intentions are quite obvious.

“I did say a couple of earlier times that I needed to be reassured that should comments of actions come up from one of the other five members of council that the same standards will be applied,” he said.

Mayor Sidney reluctantly spoke on the matter admitting it was awkward for him because he was the first member to receive two calls for his resignation along with other sanctions and those actions took a heavy toll on him personally. 

“When you look at consistencies and accountabilities, is it just two former councillors and it doesn’t apply to the rest?” he asked. “If we’re going to do this and put people through this and have it impact their professional and personal lives, and you get destroyed…then how come its only for two?”

Ma-te-Way Project

Coun. Cybulski, a construction project manager by trade, admitted he has been deeply affected by the entire Ma-te-Way episode and apologized for some of his earlier comments saying he is devastated at the condition of the $35 million complex.  

“Oh man…that Ma-te-Way project is bad, guys, and I walked through it yesterday and it’s bad and It’s not over yet,” he said in an exasperated tone. “We did what we did for reasons presented to us and I apologize for the issues it has cost. It’s cost me personally as well. I lost a job, so I get it.

“But…to walk through a building yesterday and see what we saw and how bad it is and to see overruns and mistakes and decisions made, it was frustrating. I apologize to both of you personally. I want it to end and I want us to move forward. But man oh man, that building has hurt us all badly.”

Mayor Sidney called for a recorded vote and it failed by a 4-2 vote with Councillors Legris, Cybulski, Dick and McWhirter voting against with Mayor Sidney and Reeve Emon in favour.

Reeve Emon surprised council when he introduced another Notice of Intent calling for an unnamed councillor to be removed from all committee assignments effective May 14 “for their actions which demonstrated a desired attempt to ignore the sound advice of staff”.

The five new councillors appeared to be deeply frustrated and some expressed disbelief and bitterness with the reeve’s filing of the motion that is scheduled for debate on May 14.