Good to Know Opinion

Is Democracy Dying in Caledon?

Hands holding a ball that reads democracy
Written by Patti Foley

If the roof is crumbling is that the right time to remove the walls?

Currently some Caledon residents, and Councillors, feel that the Town’s CAO and Mayor are demolishing its foundation at time when a solid, firm, strong base has never been more critical for going forward.

Faced with the dissolution of the Region of Peel one would think that skilled, long-term employees who have in-depth knowledge of Caledon, its residents, priorities, and policies, would be viewed as its greatest strength. People whose deep knowledge, expertise and loyalty to Caledon could have provided stability and reliability during the transition to a single-tier municipality. People that could have not only helped lead the way but also assist in the training of new employees, some who may come on scene with no knowledge of Caledon or its priorities.

However, over the course of the last three months, the CAO and Mayor have shown that they do not share this view of what may potentially be the municipality’s greatest asset. Their current process of ridding the Town of some of its strongest key players when the game is about to get tough is bewildering. Some residents are confused, some angry. And some Councillors have been ringing the alarm.

Last week the Town announced the removal of three more senior leaders – director of planning and chief planner Antonietta Minichillo, director of corporate strategy and innovation Erin Britnell, and the town’s solicitor Alexis Alyea. While the official press release narrative cited “savings of over $1 million annually from the restructuring…” ward 1 Councillor Lynn Kiernan, feels that rationale is highly misleading.

“I challenge that” said Kiernan in an email to JSC. “When you factor in severances and potential legal actions, as well as the eventual replacement of such key staff, I don’t see savings. In fact, I see a massive tax hit for the taxpayers.”

Those three “lost leaders” follow the dismissal of CAO Carey Herd at the beginning of August by Mayor Groves by using her “strong mayor powers”. Herd had served the Town of Caledon for a decade, starting in 2013 as director of administration and town clerk and then since 2020, as CAO. Groves replaced Herd with Nathan Hyde from the Town of Erin.

Groves had also used the “strong mayor powers”, in July, to split the head building services and municipal bylaw enforcement into two. At that time ward 4 Councillor Nick deBoer expressed concern over the financial implications of the move. As well deBoer noted the lack of consultation with the rest of Caledon’s chosen representatives – the people at the Council table.

“I am deeply concerned about the actions of the administration – the Mayor’s office and the CAO” Kiernan continued. “Decisions regarding key senior staff are being made with no pre-consultation or engagement with Council. Our voices are being silenced. Although there has not been a complete list of names released, the public should know that, to my understanding, there have been eight key people released “without cause” so far. And seven of these are WOMEN.”

Earlier this month Laura Hall, director of corporate services and town clerk, who had a 15+ year history at the Town of Caledon was also ejected from her position.

In short, professionals with decades of interactions and engagement with Caledon residents, as well as community-specific knowledge, in addition to their impressive skill sets, are being systematically ousted, and well before the dissolution of Peel.

“The staff members who have been released were principled professionals who were dedicated to serving our town with integrity,” said a frustrated Kiernan.

Ward 1,2,3 Regional Councillor Christina Early says Caledon has lost democracy with the implementation of the strong mayor’s powers. “I was stunned when former CAO Carey Herd was let go. We replaced an extremely competent and efficient CAO without any consultation with Council. I was also extremely disappointed when Laura Hall, a proficient and dedicated Town Clerk was terminated; followed by three more senior leaders that included our chief planner and our solicitor. We have lost some great leaders and, disturbingly, without Council having a say.”

Like Councillors Kiernan and Early, ward 2 Councillor Dave Sheen refers to the senior staff who have been let go as “professional, highly competent and principled.” He says he does not see how their terminations have had anything to do with advancing the province’s housing agenda or better positioning Caledon to become a single tier municipality in 15 months.  Sheen said the Town is likely to inherit a “ton of new work” following dissolution. “In a very short while we’ll be looking to attract and hire talented leaders and yet the Mayor and CAO are getting rid of our key staff. It makes no sense.”

On the afternoon of Tuesday, September 12th noting that Caledon Council had not received an update since July on the work done to prepare for dissolution, Sheen tabled a motion at Council asking for disclosure of the CAO contracts. Sheen also asked that Council be given regular updates regarding the transition. He was told by Groves and Hyde that there was “nothing to report”.

Sheen says he was skeptical following the September 12th Caledon Council meeting and then was “pleasantly surprised” two days later when he attended, on behalf of Councillor Early, as Caledon’s alternate Councillor at the Peel Regional Council meeting. He said he was “impressed with the amount of work Peel staff staff have completed to date and with their efforts to update Peel Council and the public. The contrast with Caledon was hard to ignore,” he said.  The Peel Region press release outlining that September 14th presentation can be found here.

Sheen said his skepticism was also confirmed when, just a few days after being told by the Mayor and CAO that they had no updates for Caledon Council, the CAO announced the restructuring of the Town’s administration and the dismissal of key senior staff.  “Clearly this was a plan that had been in the works for some time and the CAO and Mayor apparently felt no obligation to engage with Council, even if only as a professional courtesy.  If this is the intended use of strong mayor powers, it sure feels undemocratic to me,” said Sheen.

“Right now,” Sheen added “it seems unclear who the CAO works for.  Does he work for the Town of Caledon and Council – or for the Mayor of Caledon?  By now Council was supposed to get an informed update on the new Strong Mayors legislation and how it would be operationalized. However, that update appears to have been delayed with the termination of our Town Clerk,” said Sheen.  “Right now, we don’t know what the CAO has been contracted to do.  Even though the Mayor refers to the CAO’s ‘mandate’ we don’t know what that mandate is. And the Mayor seems quite happy to keep it all behind closed doors.”

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About the author

Patti Foley

Having spent 25 years in Bolton, Patti remains an advocate for Caledon. As a former Regional Councillor and a long-time community volunteer she is passionate about communicating information about its issues, news, events, people, non-profits and businesses.

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  • The dismissal of these key officials is an unassailable “fact”, a term quite dear to Mayor Groves in the last election campaign. “Facts” only matter when ALL of them are revealed instead of the cherry-picking for which Groves is legendary. These terminations provide a perfect example of “cherry-picking” facts. For example, the typical “without cause” severance package would be one month’s pay for each year of service. All of these people would have been on the Sunshine List, as will be their replacements. (A simple Google search for 2022 Ontario Sunshine List will produce a searchable data-base.)
    It is highly likely, therefore, that each of these people are getting a severance well into six digits, and that does not include the legal fees to the tax-payer when they sue for wrongful dismissal. That is likely very close to one million dollars just in severances. Where is the savings to the tax-payer. Furthermore, the municipal employee community is small. They talk to each other. Word will quickly get around that Caledon is the place you go to get fired. Qualified replacements will be difficult to find and attract.
    So much for transparency and consultation, so widely espoused in the last election campaign!

  • What a silly comment. I’ve month per year and the planner has been there a year so your own logic means one month not big millions.
    But let’s deal in truth. Some town employees held jobs because of family and friend connections not what they knew. You do realize how many sunshine list employees only had a high school diploma right? The town needs to grow up, and move in the right direction. Views about its on fire are ignorant when the reality is things are getting better and Caledon will now be seen as a good place to work where people succeed based on ability not on childhood friendships. Get with reality!

    • Which ones on staff, and how many on the list? Please cite your source. Can we expect that Hyde and Groves will not be recruiting their own friends and family?

      • Caledon used to be a place where you go to move up the ladder without education and experience because the former CAO would have you on a leadership ladder if she liked you. I’d like to see the resumes of all the former directors and their qualifications. Many were friends of. Can’t wait to see the new line up of qualified staff coming to Caledon now we have a CAO with spectacular credibility

  • The lack of due process and transparency is astounding! The Ford government’s ‘super mayor powers’ legislation defies democratic processes. It needs to be annulled. The current mayor is clearly not using those powers as intended or with integrity, instead demonstrating why such legislation is so dangerous. Hopefully, Caledon citizens fight back.

  • The residents of Caledon are in for a series of huge shocks;
    Growth on a scale that is unprecedented and will change the community forever, massive increases in municipal taxes due to the dissolution of Peel.
    We have a mayor who has been granted semi dictator powers by the premier and then fires a large amount of the experienced staff, doesn’t consult OUR council and then brings in a CAO who has overseen a development that has changed the village of Erin completely.
    I suspect but don’t know, that she is in the hip pocket of Queens Park and the developers.
    I don’t think Caledon residents have any idea what they are in for in the next few years.

    • Doug Ford was premier when he was in Erin too. Now he’s premier when he’s in Caledon. The coincidence!!!!!!! Probably in his pocket.

  • We don’t believe that Carey Herd was the right person to lead Caledon into single tier status. The FACTS speak for themselves. New CAO has incredible skills and talent and this council needs to get on board with that. As a Caledon resident and taxpayer I’m more pleased with Nathan Hyde than any other CAO we have had. Finally – I don’t care how Caledon got there – because even with a transparent proceeds Hyde would have been the chosen one. It’s clear. And the friends and family hired of Herd days are OVER. CONGRATULATIONS TO THOSE IN SUPPORT OF GROVES AND RESPECTING TAXPAYERS DOLLARS.