In bit of shocking news out of City Hall this afternoon, Chief Administrative Officer Ann Pappert has announced that she will not be renewing her contract with the City of Guelph, which is set to expire this coming October. The renewal of the CAO's contract has been subject of much discussion behind the doors of closed council meetings for many months, but now Guelph's mayor and council will have to turn their attention to finding someone to fill Pappert's soon to be vacated seat.
The press release from the City was vague and contained the usual platitudes. “Council thanks Ms. Pappert for her years of service to our City, and we wish her well in the future as she pursues new opportunities,” said Mayor Cam Guthrie. “Her accomplishments include fostering innovation, leadership and open government in City administration; and revamping the City’s approach to complex capital projects. She has long been a champion for arts and culture in Guelph, implementing a public art policy that has made a difference in our public spaces.”
"I am grateful to have had the opportunity to work with Council and with the many talented and dedicated employees of the City of Guelph," said Pappert. "Guelph is an outstanding community that is not only loved by those who live and work here, but well-known, respected, and admired outside our borders."
So why negotiate for months to renew and then hang it all up on a Thursday afternoon? Might it have to do with the animus between city staff and some members of the citizenry that tend to galvanize around Gerry Barker and the Guelph Speaks blog?
In recent post, Barker shared a letter allegedly sent to Rena Akerman from Mayor Guthrie on City letterhead in response to a letter from Akerman posted on Guelph Speaks outlining what she believed were a list of Pappert's missteps. "Guelph needs a more knowledgeable and trustworthy head administrator to manage the city’s day-to-day operations if we are to going to get spending under control and start paying down our multi-million dollar debt," Ackerman wrote after several annotated points.
According to Barker and Ackerman, Guthrie sent the following reply to her email:
I am writing today to inform you that as Mayor, CEO of the Corporation of the City of Guelph and the employer of CAO Ann Pappert that the correspondence sent by you today is inaccurate, disturbing and potentially defamatory. I, along with council, take this matter very seriously.
I respect that as a citizen you are entitled to an opinion regarding the city’s operations. However, I caution you that crossing the line into publishing and distributing inaccurate and defamatory information is not acceptable.
I have already reached out to legal counsel. City council will be determining next steps which may include potential legal action that may be taken against you or others involved with this correspondence.
All employees of the City of Guelph are entitled to be treated with respect and dignity. Therefore, a public apology to our CAO is in order before end of day April 29, 2016 and we ask that you cease and desist any further comments that disparage our employee.
If Guthrie did sent the letter, it would not be the first time that he's issued a missive about abusing city staff this year. Back in March, in a blog post, Guthrie said, "Any workplace should be one free of constantly looking over your shoulder (or looking at a computer screen) from those that have nothing better to do then to spread lies and misinformation to hurt our staff. So please, stop using them as your personal punching bag. Haters and bullies often continue their behaviour only because no one has stood up and punched back."
In any event, Barker has seemed to make getting rid of Pappert his personal mission. He has been alleging through his sources that the majority of council was ambivalent last fall about issuing Pappert a pay raise for 2015, and that Pappert hired a lawyer to act on her behalf in negotiations with council. None of this has been proven, of course, unlike me, people don't spend time trying to identify his anonymous sources.
On the flip side though, the City press release phrased the negotiations thusly: "In March 2016, City Council and Ms. Pappert mutually agreed to discuss terms by which the CAO contract might be renewed. Ms. Pappert has advised Council that while the discussions have been positive, she has decided to cease the negotiations." Again there's no proof to indicate that the behind closed doors discussions were proceeding positively or negatively, but would it be surprising given the public vitriol that Pappert's been receiving that she might want to step down? Hardly.
Still, the news about Pappert comes a little over a week after one of her deputies, Deputy Chief Administrative Officer of Public Services, Derrick Thomson, announced that he was departing Guelph for the General Manager of Community Services job in Caledon. Overall, it's the fourth high profile resignation from the City this year following General Manager of Finance and City Treasurer Janice Sheehy in March, and Parks and Recreation General Manager Kristene Scott in January.
On the phone this afternoon, Ward 3 Councillor Phil Allt said that while he's sorry to see Pappert go, with all the departures listed above, he's more concerned about the corporation. "For all intents and purposes, until Ann departs, she's now a lame duck CAO, and we need to now put into process a way to replace her and that's a very challenging process," said Allt. "We have three people gone, and that's not a very enviable position to be in."
As to support among council and the reason why Pappert may be departing, or the suddenness of it, Allt said "we're all really surprised. [...] She has the support of the majority of council, there's no doubt about that."