A number of letters to the editor have been published in the Frontenac News in recent weeks about Judy Farrell, a member of Tay Valley Council who was the subject of an investigation by a third-party investigation into allegations that she harassed Tay Valley Township staff.
In a report to the township, the investigator concluded that Farrell had indeed harassed the staff members. Farrell, and her lawyer, asked for a copy of the report and were told that for privacy reasons they could not be supplied one. The report prescribed that Farrell undertake sensitivity training and apologise to the staff members involved.
Farrell refused, and in response council stripped her of many of her duties, including sitting on township committees and attending conferences. About all that Farrell was left with was the right to attend council meetings.
Some of the letters to the editor deal with some of the statements made by Farrell on her Facebook page on September 11 of this year. In last week’s edition of the Frontenac News, an article was published (Tay Valley Debacle Colours Election) about the controversy and how it relates to this year’s election campaign inTay Valley, where Farrell is running for Deputy Reeve.
Farrell was called as the article was being prepared, but did not respond in time for publication, so we used her Facebook post to characterise her position on the issues that led to her being censured by Council.
Farrell contacted the News after the article had been published and she was interviewed this week. She did not say anything that contradicts her Facebook post of September 11, but added some detail about the situation.
The first thing that Judy Farrell said was that the much of what was said in the letters we published was not true.
“How can you publish such unsubstantiated statements,” she said.
The letters she was referring to were by Mark Burnham, a member of Tay Valley Council, and David Taylor, a Tay Valley resident.
We also talks about the statement made by Keith Kerr, Tay Valley Reeve, on September 19, which was published on the township website. The statement refers to her September 11 Facebook post, and includes some pretty pointed language, including the following: “It is convenient for Councillor Farrell to blame others for her mistakes, but that does not make her statements true.”
For her part, Farrell went back to the beginning.
She said “it’s no secret that Tay Valley is known as a difficult place to build because of the way the planning and building departments operate. All of this has come from efforts to make improvements and deal with these problems. Efforts that were done in a respectful way.”
According to Farrell these efforts began after MPP Hillier, who lives in Perth, received complaints from Tay Valley residents about how hard it is to get approvals in order to build.
“Randy Hillier, along with representatives from the Perth Real Estate Board and the Lanark Leeds Home Builders Association, came to a committee meeting and talked about the issues that are of concern. This was June 26/2017. When the delegation was finished I said that we would look into this and try to rectify this. The next day a gentleman from Black Lake wrote a summation of the meeting on his Facebook page, and I gave it a thumbs up. The Planner and the CBO accused me of harassment.”
Farrell said that she has never met privately with either the township planner or the Chief Building Official except in 2014, before taking office, when she was applying for permits for her own home. She did have disagreements over decisions and fees with each of them at that time. She said she has not met with them later on and has never discussed their performance with them in her role as a member of council.
“They say that I said the Planner was over paid but I never said that. I did say that we should look at the cost of our planning and building departments. At conferences there is talk about sharing services with other townships to save money for both townships. I brought that up at council, but I did not say anything against our staff in a personal way.”
Farrell also said that the township did not follow its own procedural bylaw when the complaints were made.
“They should have sat down with me, the CAO [Chief Administrative Officer] and the complainants and we could have dealt with the problems. But instead he hired an investigator,” she said.
This point is addressed in Reeve Kerr’s release from September 19: “Councillor Farrell also suggests that the Township’s internal procedure was not followed. The truth is the CAO attempted to deal directly with Councillor Farrell about staff complaints prior to the investigation. That was ineffective and an investigation was ordered by Council after further incidents were reported.”
According to Judy Farrell, there were no further incidents.
“Everything that I have done or said was done in a council meeting. How does a Councillor doing their job get to the level of harassment?” she said.
She also said that her lawyer accompanied her when she met with the investigator looking into the harassment allegation, and afterwards her lawyer said that nothing that there was no way she could be found to have harassed any township staff member based on what came out at that meeting.
“So, when they said there was harassment I wanted to see the report. How can I defend myself when I cannot see the report?” she said.
Keith Kerr, speaking on behalf of Council, clearly sees things differently. Again, from his September 19 release: “It is important for the public to understand that Council has certain legal obligations where its staff are being harassed, and accordingly could not accept Councillor Farrell simply refusing to apologize or accept that her conduct contravened the Occupational Health and Safety Act … Councillor Farrell is directly responsible for the decision of Council to direct me to respond to the ongoing issues created by her behavior.”
The dispute has been expensive, for both sides. The township has paid $160,000 in costs, according to what a member of council told the News, and Judy Farrell said she has spent $30,000 in legal fees.
The restrictions on Farrell will cease to have effect as soon as the new Tay Valley Council is sworn in later this fall. Judy Farrell is running for Deputy Reeve.
“I did not think, after one term, that I had the experience to be a good Reeve, but I have the ability to be a good deputy and listen to the taxpayers concerns.”
She supports the current Deputy Reeve, Brian Campbell, who is running for Reeve against both Keith Kerr and former Deputy Reeve Susan Freeman.
“Only if Brian Campbell is elected will there be change. If Kerr or Freeman get in, it will be status quo,” she said.
Voting begins on October 15, and the results will be posted just after 8pm on October 22.