by CONNIE TABBERT
WHITEWATER REGION — A former Township of Whitewater Region employee has received a $70,000 settlement following an eight-year battle.
The settlement was agreed to prior to the last municipal election, but due to a Non-Disclosure Agreement between Hal Johnson and the township, nothing about the settlement could be released to the public.
On Nov. 26, 2010, Mr. Johnson was terminated without cause from his duties as public works manager for the township. It was reported there had been an incident regarding the sale of a tractor. He then filed a claim for $679,510, plus mitigated damages and interest.
Over the next eight years, various reporters have asked if the lawsuit has been settled and for how much. No information was forthcoming from the township.
During the 2018 municipal election, Whitewater Region resident Donald Deer lost trust with council and staff, as each time the question was asked during an all-candidates meeting about the lawsuit, it was always said no information will be forthcoming.
At one of the meetings, Mr. Deer was told, “It’s none of your business.” At the third meeting, Mr. Johnson yelled at a resident to “shut up and sit down,” when he was again questioned about the law suit.
Upset, Mr. Deer again asked Chief Administrative Officer Robert Tremblay about the settlement. When he was again refused, he filed a request for information with Mr. Tremblay, who also turned down that request.
“This is ridiculous,” Mr. Deer said. “We have a right to know.
“I heard he received three-quarters of a million dollars.”
Mr. Deer then sent a request to the Privacy Commission of Ontario to see if he could get the information.
“I’m not certain, but I suspect that the only reason Robert Tremblay decided to release the settlement agreement is that he was likely told by the Privacy Commission of Ontario that if it went to final adjudication, that Whitewater Region would have to release the minutes of settlement and the only thing I was seeking was the settlement amount,” Mr. Deer said.
When he heard the amount was $70,796.76, he said that would be what the standard person would get, which would be about one month’s salary for each year, which was 10 years for Mr. Johnson.
Mr. Deer still isn’t sure why council and staff felt the need to hide the settlement amount.
CAO Tremblay said no one was trying to hide anything, but there was a Non-Disclosure Agreement signed by all parties, which means nothing can be disclosed. However, when advised by the Privacy Commissioner to release only the amount settled on, CAO Tremblay did so.
He held a closed door session with council on Feb. 20. In the minutes of the regular meeting following the closed door session it was reported:
The meeting resumed in open session at 9:30 p.m.
Council also received an update from the CAO on the resolution of the legal claim by Harold Johnson following termination without cause in 2010.
Mr. Johnson was employed with the Township for a period of 10 years as Public Works Manager from November 6, 2000 to November 29, 2010.
A settlement was achieved in 2017/2018 for $70,796.76, which is reflected in the 2018 Roads-Salaries. The settlement was funded from Reserves.
Mr. Johnson did not participate in any closed session meetings or discussions of the previous Council (2014-2018) associated with this matter.
The original 2010 claim amount was $679,510, plus mitigated damages and interest.
CAO Tremblay noted he advised Mr. Deer to go the Privacy Commission because that was the only way he would release the information.
“I had to follow due process,” CAO Tremblay said.
CAO Tremblay said council meetings are live-feed, and then the recordings can be seen at any time after the live-feed is completed. However, once the live-feed is shut down, which is prior to a closed-door session, it is not brought back online once the closed door session is completed.
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However, if there is anything to be reported in the open session following the closed-door session, it is included in the minutes, which are put on the township website as soon as they are available.
Mr. Johnson fought for eight years because, “I had been unfairly treated.
“I needed to have an admission that I was improperly treated. What I received is not more than the people of Whitewater Region should have paid me.”
The termination without cause followed an incident regarding the sale of tractors in the township to a dealership and then Mr. Johnson purchasing one of the tractors and driving it home from the township garage on Mineview Road. He later returned the tractor when asked to by council.
Mr. Johnson noted that he didn’t even receive as much as someone in his position would have received, since he did not get paid interest on that amount over the past eight years and was only paid a small amount for damages.
“I know that in the future, if any council pulls the same stunt, they will be sued successfully,” he said.
Mr. Johnson also believes that those people who spread rumours throughout the recent municipal election cost him being re-elected.
While he doesn’t know for sure who began the rumours of him receiving between $600,000 and $800,000, he believes it was a “way of getting back at me”, a way of “beating me at the election.
“The people spreading the rumour during the election wanted to discredit me.
“Some people will do anything to win.”
As for his four years as mayor of Whitewater Region, Mr. Johnson said, “I’m still very proud of what I accomplished in my four years as mayor.”
Mr. Johnson also noted there was only one council member on the former council who supported him when the 2010 incident occurred when he was terminated without cause.
“Jack Ferguson was the only council member who stood up for me,” he said.
Mr. Johnson said he did nothing wrong, has nothing to hide, and went through the toughest part in his entire life in 2010. He has had to live it over and over again each time the discussion was brought forward.
He does admit, “I’m okay with everything, but I’m glad it’s out. People need to know the truth.”