A couple of weeks ago, many local news sources reported the loss of Brian Carré as North Grenville’s CAO.
Brian had been CAO since 2012 and had become a staple at the municipal office as North Grenville’s head of the administration. He worked with three different councils and played an integral role on many files over the years, including the municipality’s acquisition of the Kemptville Campus and the creation of the educational hub that now houses several schools and businesses.
So, what happened? Why was the “employment relationship ended” after so many years? Surely our new, strong and capable council has some good reasons for their part in the decision to terminate the relationship.
The fact is there probably is a good reason. Yet we will never know what that is. Nor will we know the terms upon which Brian’s employment with the municipality ended, or whether he will get a severance package as part of the deal. There are strict rules about what can and can’t be said when someone high up in the administration of a municipality leaves their position. “We are bound by a confidentiality agreement, so I am unable to say more,” Mayor Nancy Peckford told the North Grenville Times after confirming that Brian was no longer the CAO of North Grenville.
This issue also came up in Merrickville-Wolford last year during a lengthy investigation into the actions of their previous CAO, John Regan. The saga ended in John’s resignation and nothing ever being released about the results of the investigation, which cost the small municipality tens of thousands of dollars. John has now moved on to a new position with another municipality, without anyone ever knowing what caused the end of his employment
Confidentiality agreements make neat and tidy dismissals and resignations possible. Both parties go their separate ways without any public mudslinging or discord. But what if the person whose employment has just been terminated actually behaved in a manner that should prevent them from working in top positions in the public service? The confidentiality agreement will protect them, but not the people in the municipality where they may be hired next.
This is not to say that this is the case in either North Grenville or Merrickville-Wolford. The issue is that this might be a possibility in some cases. The strict confidentiality agreements that are put in place make it possible for someone who HAS behaved questionably throughout their employment to get a job somewhere else without ever being held accountable for their actions. This isn’t right. Severance package details are also kept confidential, even though it is taxpayer money that will be used to pay it.
There is definitely a place for confidentiality. The gory details of a person’s employment do not need to be broadcast throughout the community. That being said, if it is in the public interest to know a bit about the reasons for the end an employment relationship with a top level municipal employee, these details should be fair game. Someone whose actions have the potential to damage the working environment at another municipality should not be protected.
Again, this is not to say that this is the case for Brian Carré or John Regan. It’s a perspective on the need for transparency when it comes to the termination/resignation of high-level municipal employees, especially in situations where not being open about what happened may impact another municipality down the road.
This is also not meant to shame municipal council for not being transparent with the public. Confidentiality has deep roots in the municipal employment structure and breaking this could have serious legal ramifications. It is simply to say that perhaps this issue needs to be considered at a higher level. We need to find a way to balance confidentiality and transparency where it is fair for all parties involved (including the taxpayers), and it doesn’t allow CAOs or other high-level municipal employees to get off scot free if they have done
something that is not in the public interest.