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City of Hamilton employees “going through hell,” says general manager

By Kevin Werner • METROLAND WEST MEDIA GROUP

Hamilton politicians upbraided Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson for speaking out about the city’s decision to fire 29 employees and suspend two others for neglect of duty.

Stoney Creek councillor Brad Clark said Ferguson’s comments to the media about the firings and the suggestion those workers will not be replaced are inappropriately being made, while the city continues its investigation into the issue.

RELATED: City fires 29 employees for breach of trust

“I have real concerns where we are going,” said Clark. “It is appropriate to comment at the end of the investigation. Everybody is flapping their gums. This is not what we had agreed to in this room.”

Ferguson told the media Jan. 28 that the 29 positions in the public works department would not be filled as a cost-saving measure. Ferguson also indicated the two employees received 30-day, unpaid suspensions because they were truthful in explaining what occurred to city officials.

“That’s very disgusting,” said Mountain councillor Scott Duvall. “No councillor should be speaking on this matter. It should be coming from the management side only.”

Public Works general manager Gerry Davis said he has been consistent in limiting the type of information released from his department to the media. He said the 2,100 employees in his department have been “going through hell” because of the ongoing probe by the city. He is also worried that the public is now involved in a “witch hunt” against his employees, by accusing workers of various incidents and violations.

“The speculation and the witch hunt are inappropriate,” he said.

Davis said no decision has been made by staff or council on whether to fill the now empty positions.

“It’s an inaccurate reporting from the media,” he said.

But Ferguson defended his statements, saying the media reported his comments accurately.

Ferguson has been interviewed by print, radio and television reporters about the investigation.

City manager Chris Murray said there is nothing wrong with discussing the issue with the community if it concentrates on the performance of the city.

“Our focus is performance,” he said. “Our whole business is to look at it.”

As part of the investigation, city staff are examining the performance of the supervisors of fired employees. Murray said it could take a few more days before the probe is completed.

Ward 4 councillor Sam Merulla saw nothing wrong with how city officials are talking about the issue to the media. He said it’s about public accountability and the city’s response to it.

“I applaud that,” he said.

But Clark and Duvall both said the employees who have been fired will go through an arbitration process that will use the words that councillors and city officials have said in the media.

“These are people’s lives,” said Clark, who has experienced this type of personnel issue as a cabinet minister. “That’s why the comment (to the media) is no comment. That is not what we are doing. It will come back to bite us.”

Added Duvall: “We could be putting the corporation at risk.”

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