By Gord Whitehead, Special to the Times-Advocate
LAMBTON SHORES — A majority of Lambton Shores council has given the boot to chief administrative officer John Byrne with no explanation to the public.
CAO for all of the municipality's 11 years, Byrne was told to hand over his keys during an in camera meeting that began at 4:19 p.m. Tues., Nov. 13 on a motion by Ward Three Coun. Lorie Scott, seconded by Ward One Coun. Dave Maguire. The meeting adjourned at 5:18 p.m. and two minutes later Mayor Bill Weber circulated an email stating that council had voted to suspend Byrne with pay and had recommended that treasurer Janet Ferguson be acting CAO effective immediately.
On Wednesday, Weber told the Times-Advocate that a press release was being prepared with advice from a lawyer and that he could not respond to questions.
“It's a sensitive issue so we're doing it right.”
The Lambton Shores clerk's office declined to provide the wording of any motion, vote or report that was given in public when council emerged from the closed session. This information is not available as of yet, a reporter was told.
All that is reported in minutes of the Nov. 13 in camera session posted on the municipal website is that “council rose after discussing a personal matter and sought legal direction on the issues.”
The delayed press release eventually was issued late Thursday afternoon. It changed Weber's original term 'suspend' to 'non-disciplinary leave' and concluded, “Further information will not be provided at this time due to the confidential nature of this matter.”
A former municipal politician who requested anonymity told the T-A that he has since talked to Byrne who said he was being terminated, was told to hand over his keys, computer and BlackBerry, that a team of council members would be negotiating his severance and that he was escorted from Thedford Village Complex where council meets.
According to the source, Byrne also said he was told by one council member that he had done a great job, that council appreciated what he had done but that they were going in a different direction.
Prior to his 2001-2012 role as Lambton Shores CAO, Byrne was clerk-administrator for the Town of Forest from 1995 to 2000, doubled as chief administrator for the Town of Bosanquet during the latter part of his term at Forest and also served as Forest's clerk-administrator from 1980 to 1984. He was secretary for the transition board that engineered the 2001 Lambton Shores amalgamation of Arkona, Bosanquet, Grand Bend, Forest and Thedford.
Gord Minielly, Lambton Shores' immediate past mayor and long-time mayor of Forest, reacted with disbelief.
Contacted by the T-A, Minielly commented, “And giving no reason, who does that? What a stupid decision. This could cost the taxpayers half a million dollars or more for getting rid of one of the best CAOs in Southwestern Ontario. He was going to retire in two years and you do this?”
Minielly's message to council: “It is time you people resign and give the citizens a chance to find some more logical representation.”