“That’s simply not true!” exclaimed Mayor of Amaranth Bob Currie in reference to the investigation report that stated there was evidence supporting allegations that he had cultivated a poisonous work environment dominated by fear and intimidation.
On November 4th, at Amaranth’s meeting of council, the matter of the investigation into workplace harassment at the township was being considered. This inquiry stems from an incident in May 2020, where former CAO/Clerk Christine Hickey was terminated by council after approximately seven weeks on the job. Specifically, the discussion pertained to a letter summarizing the investigation that was addressed to Amaranth Deputy Mayor Chris Gerrits. This was originally designated to be in closed session, but Mayor Currie moved to have it made public. Other members of council obliged, making it possible for Dufferin News to obtain the letter.
The notice specifies that the investigation was a result of Amaranth’s Deputy Mayor raising a number of complaints under the Township’s Harassment and Respectful Workplace Policy. The Ministry of Labour, Training, and Skills Development Inspector Cheryl Masse ordered an evaluation of the claims, which a third-party senior investigator was retained to conduct.
Allegations contained in the report were summarized into three areas respecting each Mayor Bob Currie and former Councillor Mark Tijssen. The first was that Currie and Tijssen supposedly violated workplace policy in dealing with one or more current or former workers since taking office in December 2018. Second, they were implicated in violating the overarching Dufferin County “Prevention of Violence in the Workplace” policy in dealing with one or more current or former workers in the current term of council. Lastly, claims were made that through a “continued course of workplace harassment, the Respondents created systemically deleterious conditions at the Township qualifying it as a ‘poisoned work environment’ under the workplace policy and on the ‘objective reasonable bystander’ standard”. The investigation included interviews with Deputy Chris Mayor Gerrits, Mayor Bob Currie, Mark Tijssen, and fifteen additional witnesses. Considerable documentary evidence was also said to be reviewed.
Furthermore, there were declarations that Mayor Bob Currie had indulged in the use of racial epithets, name-calling, and screaming while “generally displaying unwarranted animus and hostility toward a wide range of workers.”
“There is no way that I would ever have any racial slurs in these council chambers, that’s way beyond me!” the Mayor of Amaranth asserted.
Dufferin News requested that Deputy Mayor Chris Gerrits clarify what racial epithets were used by the Mayor, if any. Gerrits stated that this was not something he included in his original complaint and that it was a comment received by the investigators during the interviews. It should be noted that this investigation is not limited to events solely taking place in council chambers and covered the first two years of this term.
The summary letter reports on claims that Currie had singled-out the new Township Treasurer, Fazal Quadri, and ordered him to unnecessarily report to the workplace to carry out duties that were able to be conducted remotely. According to the letter, this order would not have been by provincial guidelines established during the pandemic state of emergency. Furthermore, there are assertions that Currie has routinely threatened to fire staff without cause while overstating his authority.
There were references to events that have previously been documented by the press such as Mayor Currie ‘padlocking and illegally restraining access to the workplace’ over the course of the 2019 winter holiday closure, requiring police intervention. Less than a month earlier, Mayor Currie called the police to have Councillor Gail Little ‘forcibly removed from Council chambers during a public meeting following a disagreement over his mistreatment of the then CAO Susan Stone’.
“That’s a blatant lie, you [Councillor Little] know that you were never physically removed from this council chambers,” bellowed Currie when referencing the matter at the Nov. 4th meeting. Shortly after the events transpired in 2019, the Mayor of Amaranth had told the Orangeville Banner that he had asked Little to leave for “yelling and so on” and requested that police be called to remove her. Little departed the council meeting before police arrived and described the event as an abuse of emergency services.
As previously reported, suggested corrective actions against Currie were contained in a legal opinion that recommends his delegated powers be revoked and to have him restricted from visiting town hall. Councillor Heather Foster and former Councillor Mark Tijssen voted against the motion censuring the mayor. The summary letter of the investigation mentions that since Currie is the elected Mayor of Amaranth only the council can take corrective action against him.
With regards to former Councillor Mark Tijssen, the report stated the ‘areas of complaint against Tijssen were not supported based on the facts discovered by the investigation’. This is not synonymous with being ‘exonerated’, as claimed by Tijssen to Dufferin News when announcing his resignation from council. Since the council seat became vacant, Amaranth’s newly appointed CAO Nicole Martin has provided many recommendations on how it can be filled. Councilmembers have expressed that they are comfortable with the current four-person dynamic despite the risk of council being dissolved if a quorum is unable to be obtained for a period of sixty days or more.
At the most recent council meeting on November 4th, Councillor Little proposed that the township hire a firm to perform a workplace harassment information seminar for councilmembers and staff. Council agreed to this unanimously. Deputy Mayor Gerrits proposed going further.
“I think training is a good first step, but other than that I would like to see a protocol for council-staff interactions so that they are done in an appropriate manner,” Gerrits stated. He mentioned that there was one developed by the former CAO/Clerk, but it did not receive the full support of council. The Deputy Mayor suggested that it be used as a starting point. This was agreed to and the matter will be discussed at a future meeting.
Amaranth’s next regular meeting of council takes place on November 18th, 2020 at 7 pm. There is a special meeting of council before then, on November 10th at 9 am, pertaining to the budget.
November 11, 2020 – Contains corrections to the date of the November 4th Council Meeting for Amaranth, previously stated as November 5th
References – Mayor of Amaranth responds to investigation report
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