By Chet Greason
After a period of perceived civility amongst council and staff of Perth South, the dysfunction that plagued the township earlier in this four-year term again reared its head at their meeting on Tuesday, Jan. 22.
The final item on the meeting’s agenda was a closed session to discuss “Personal matters about an identifiable individual, including municipal or local board employees — Legal Expenses.” As the council moved into closed session, Councillor Don Henderson chose not to attend, instead leaving the Council Chambers to address members of the press and public in the front foyer of the township offices.
Henderson explained the nature of the discussion happening behind closed doors, saying that both he and Councillor Liz Armstrong were seeking to recoup legal costs incurred from the recent harassment investigation that has been reported in this paper, but of which the Journal Argus has received little information. “On May 8, 2012, I had been reprimanded for the breach of the Code of Conduct,” begins a press release Henderson distributed at the time, referencing a Special Meeting held last May to address a series of letters to the media Henderson had written expressing his concerns with the actions of Perth South Council.
“(Within) three weeks, Councillor Liz Armstrong and I were being investigated for the harassment of two senior employees of the Township,” continues the press release. “We were instructed by the Township to get our own solicitor for this investigation, and the costs of our lawyer is a total of approximately $2,700 for the both of us. The charges were never laid.”
The press release is signed “Don Henderson, Ratepayer of Perth South Township, Blanshard Ward.”
He notes that he had never met with an investigator during the harassment investigation; however, the lawyer he had hired addressed Council and pointed out that debate is part of the democratic process.
“It was suggested by our lawyer that it is not our duty as elected councillors to blindly accept the recommendations of staff regarding any matter and it is expected of a councillor to debate and or point out possible mistakes or different opinions for the purpose of influencing the vote of the other councillors, on business of the Township of Perth South,” reads Henderson’s press release. In the foyer, he added: “If we can’t question employees…then what the hell am I doing out here?
“This closed session is just another way to shut down free speech,” said Henderson. “There’s too much closed session out here.” Henderson noted that he has been in contact with the Ontario Ombudsman, who suggested recording council meetings, including in camera sessions.
The township has already racked up tens of thousands of dollars in legal costs — related, in large part, to the campaign expenses fiasco stemming from the 2010 elections, as well as the aforementioned harassment investigation — over and above the $2,700 cited for Henderson and Armstrong’s legal expenses.
However, when the in camera session concluded and Council resumed, it was learned that the request for payment had been denied.
When contacted, township staff said they did not have an official response at this time.