Jason Burgess has not resigned as Norfolk County’s CAO but acknowledged that the subject was discussed at an in-camera session of council in October.
Burgess released a statement on the matter after learning that details from the closed-door meeting had been shared publicly.
“I would like to say that I am extremely disappointed that these matters would be shared by anyone who took part in the discussion, as confidential matters are to remain confidential,” he said.
“This is the second time confidential information from an in-camera session discussing the employment status of a senior team member has been shared publicly.”
Burgess noted that information about the potential dismissal of Dr. Shanker Nesathurai, Haldimand-Norfolk’s medical officer of health, was leaked in the summer.
“This upset me on a number of levels, as well as other staff,” Burgess said in his statement. “The damage that this type of information sharing causes the organization is significant.
“This damages not only the individual being discussed, but negatively impacts the organization on a number of levels as people start to question the direction that the corporation is taking.”
Burgess said how council handles confidential information affects everyone in the organization.
He said he expects to have another meeting with council soon.
“Though I am not entirely sure whether it will be in-camera or not, as apparently the in-camera part does not seem to be all that effective.”
Burgess declined further comment, referring questions to the county’s communications department.
Municipal councils are allowed to go in-camera or hold meetings without the media or public in attendance to discuss personnel matters, labour relations and contract negotiations as well as plans to buy or sell property. Council can also receive legal advice during in-camera sessions.
By law, councils are required to report to the public that they met behind closed doors and provide the reason – legal advice, a property or employment matter. However, councillors are required to keep the details of what was discussed confidential.
Burgess, a native of St. Catharines, was announced as the new CAO in February. He had been serving as Norfolk’s interim general manager of corporate services since September 2019.
He is the fifth person to occupy the CAO’s office since David Cribbs abruptly resigned in January 2019.
Earlier in October, Burgess responded to critics who say he served up a warmed-over policy prescription for Norfolk left over from his days as an independent consultant advising other municipalities.
He was reacting to a critique from the Concerned Residents of Norfolk, a citizens group that came together after Norfolk council made a number of controversial changes to the management of Norfolk’s arenas, community halls and cultural institutions at the end of its budget deliberations in January.
“First and foremost, I am disappointed that the trend in Norfolk County appears to be avoid dealing with issues and – rather than provide solutions or suggestions – move to personal attacks,” Burgess said.
At issue was Burgess’s plan for the City of Orillia while he was a consultant with MNP LLP of St. Catharines, which “was copied to Norfolk without consultation nor care for the citizens of Norfolk County.”
Burgess said that’s because Norfolk and Orillia share many of the same financial and performance issues.
“Some of the challenges municipalities face are also faced by other municipalities, as such core-service reviews will identify the same issues,” he said. “The number of viable solutions a municipality can execute are actually fairly limited: Increase revenue or taxes, cut costs, which is code for cut services, monetize assets (and) look for creative partnerships.”