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Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson was upbraided by council colleagues for his comments on the recent firing of 29 public works staff.

City employees “going through hell,” says general manager

By Kevin Werner, News Staff

Hamilton politicians upbraided Ancaster councillor Lloyd Ferguson for speaking out about the city’s firing of 29 employees, and the suspension of 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 jobs will not be replaced are inappropriately being made while the city continues its investigation into the issue.

“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 reason two employees who received 30-day, unpaid suspensions, was 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 from his department o the media. He said the 2,100 employees in his department, have been “going through hell” because of the on-going 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.

Davissaid no decision has been made by staff or council to fill those 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. He disagreed, though, with the headline that was printed  in the local newspaper Jan. 30.

“Reporters will tell you they don’t write headlines,” he said.

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

City Manager Chris Murray said there is nothing wrong in 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.”

City staff is conducting a second part of the investigation examining the performance of those fired employees’ supervisors.Murraysaid 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 those employees that 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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