By Doug Hallett
For the second time in six months, city council has defended CAO Ann Pappert from criticism. Council passed a special resolution reaffirming its confidence in her leadership.
After debate behind closed doors, council unanimously passed a resolution from Coun. Ian Findlay at Monday’s council meeting without discussion. The resolution sought to correct a perception in the media and social media that council had lost confidence in Pappert, he said.
“I think we had a good and frank discussion in camera,” Findlay said in an interview Tuesday. “We put a lot of issues on the table. I think we are ready as a council to move on and start talking about the 2013 budget.”
Pappert drew some public criticism within council last month in the wake of her comments at a budget workshop related to council’s goal of keeping the 2013 city operating budget increase to 3% or less.
Findlay said Tuesday he’d been concerned about “four or five” instances, over the past couple of months, of criticism of Pappert in the media and social media from within the ranks of council. He said he didn’t want to identify any particular councillors whose public comments concerned him, or even specify how many councillors he had in mind when he drew up his resolution.
“I want to move beyond these unfortunate instances that have happened in the past couple of months,” he said.
In a Sept. 21 blog entry on his Ward 2 website, Findlay said politics “does not provide an exemption” from the general business rule that people shouldn’t criticize subordinates publicly. “For those new to leadership positions at the City of Guelph, a code of conduct is provided,” which is enforced by the city’s integrity commissioner, Findlay said in that blog entry.
“With respect to staff, a guideline is provided within the code: no member shall maliciously or falsely injure the professional or ethical reputation, or the prospects or practice of staff, and all members shall show respect for the professional capacities of the staff of the city,” he wrote.
If councillors have issues about Pappert’s performance, they should be raised in private at the regular performance reviews for her held by council, “not in the media and not in social media,” Findlay said Tuesday. He said his resolution Monday “did not deal with performance. It dealt with leadership.”
Council needs to follow the rule generally followed in the world of business, he said. When it comes to subordinates, “you praise in public and you punish in private. That is how it is in most workplace environments.”
The CAO is the only city hall employee hired directly by council. Pappert became the first female administrative chief in Guelph’s history when council hired her for the job in September 2011, after former CAO Hans Loewig retired. She was hired by Loewig in early 2008 to become the city’s new director of community services after holding a similar post in Kitchener.
The circumstances that led to Monday’s resolution were similar to those that led to a similar special resolution about council’s confidence in Pappert, which was proposed by Coun. June Hofland and passed by council in late April, Findlay said.
Hofland’s motion had followed an April 21 newspaper story which said five councillors – Bob Bell, Jim Furfaro, Cam Guthrie, Andy Van Hellemond and Gloria Kovach – had agreed to contribute $1 each to file a Freedom of Information request with the province for access to a report that Pappert had refused to give to Guthrie.
At the same April meeting, council decided to have the city’s new integrity commissioner, lawyer Robert Swayze, look into events surrounding the April 21 newspaper story. A month later, Swayze issued a report saying Guthrie and Kovach had breached the city’s code of conduct through comments they made in the story.