Opinion| A Lot of Smoke with Sault Fire Services

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As some of you will know because of a story in The Sault Star on Feb. 1, there is a question as to whether or not a second public educator was hired by the Sault Ste. Marie Fire Service at an annual salary of $103,000.

Richard Bishop, President of the Sault Ste. Marie Professional Firefighters Association Local 529, was quoted as saying that initially two public educators were hired at that salary but then one was fired after being on the job for only a month because questions about the pay grade were raised.

But Al Horsman, the city’s chief administrative officer, countered that the second position was never formally finalized and was put on hold until a review of the service by the Ontario Fire Marshal, launched in December, was completed and recommendations made.

Council was told the same thing, that only one public educator was actually hired and an offer withdrawn from a second, in a closed session a couple of weeks ago.

To get my own take on things and to try to establish the truth, I emailed both Bishop and Horsman.

Both remained wedded to their original stands.

Horsman repeated that “no one was fired.”

But Bishop offered some pretty solid backing for what he had said, such as providing me with the name of the second person hired for the public educator’s job and a copy of the letter of termination (permanent layoff) she received from Peter Niro, executive director, human resources.

Bishop blanked out the name and some wording about payment in lieu of notice in the copy he sent me as he said the person didn’t want that released.

I contacted the subject of the letter and she declined to be interviewed, saying she just wanted to move on, that she had returned to her previous vocation as a supply teacher.

However, she did say that she had provided Bishop with a copy of the letter of termination she had received and that she had given him permission to share it with me.

When I asked her if she had seen the story in The Sault Star where the CAO had said that the second hire was never in the job, she said “that was not the case.”

She said she had been in the job for “about a month and a half.”

I emailed Niro, saying I had just one question. “Did you issue a termination letter to the second hire for the public educator’s job at our fire service?”

Niro responded that “All correspondence regarding fire matters are to be addressed by the CAO.”

I put in a Freedom of Information request for a copy of the termination letter and also for the amount she was paid for the period she worked but had no reply at deadline.

So here we have an executive director of human resources who cannot answer, or should that be is not allowed to answer, a human-resources question.

Go figure.
In any event, the termination letter, which was copied to Horsman, Deputy CAO and City Clerk Malcolm White, Fire Chief Mike Figliola and the firefighters union, follows:
“Re: Notice of Immediate Permanent Lay-off

“Dear MS. ——

“As a result of the upcoming Ontario Fire Marshal Review, and given the infancy of the newly created public education program, the Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie and Sault Ste. Marie Fire Services regret to inform you of the decision to reduce the number of public education officers effective immediately. As the most junior employee in the public educator position and in the Fire Education Prevention and Emergency Management Division, unfortunately, this has a direct impact on your continued employment with the City of Sault Ste. Marie.

“This letter will serve as official notice of termination of employment effective immediately, January 9, 2017.

“The Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie shall pay to you termination pay in lieu of notice as per the Employment Standards Act, 2000. (The remainder of the paragraph was blacked out but the amount paid probably would be about $4,000, the equivalent of two weeks pay, for such a brief employment period.)

“You will be contacted by OMERS (Ontario Municipal Employee Retirement System) for all options regarding your accumulated pension entitlement to date. The City will extend Greenshield healthcare benefits to you and your dependents until January 31, 2017.

“Thank you for your contributions and we wish you success in your future endeavours.”

As already mentioned, it was signed by Niro.

Below the letter was the following paragraph which was signed by the former public educator:

“This will confirm that I have received the above correspondence regarding the notice of immediate permanent lay-off of my position of public educator.” It was also dated January 9.

I find the letter of termination rather compelling evidence that this person was indeed in the public educators job for a limited time.

It says “notice of immediate permanent lay-off. It says the fire marshal’s review unfortunately “has a direct impact on your continued employment.” It says “this letter will serve as official notice of termination of employment effective immediately.” It says she would receive termination pay in lieu of notice. As well, she signed the letter signifying she had received the termination notice.

And then, of course, there is her word for it.

All of this says to me that the woman was indeed employed.

Nobody sends a notice of lay-off, permanent or otherwise, to someone who doesn’t work there.

When I initially emailed Horsman I did not have a copy of the termination letter. This is what I asked him:

“Although I note that you told The Sault Star that only one public educator was fired for the fire department, my understanding is that two were indeed hired and one let go.

“I am inquiring as to the amount of money that was paid in lieu of notice to the person who was terminated.

“Also, as you say you are waiting for the final report of the Ontario Fire Marshal Review to go ahead with that position, would that person be rehired?

“Or offered the job again if the city holds to the view the person was never hired?”

His full reply:

“No one was ‘fired.’”

“Staff cannot speculate on what the non-binding Fire Marshal’s Office report might summarize nor what staff may or may not recommend to council as a result

“The position in question is a union position covered under the pay grade schedule found in the current collective agreement with the SSM Professional Fire Fighters Association.”

Upon receiving this I had to reply to him that I had goofed in my opening paragraph. I meant to say only one educator was hired, not fired, which I think comes through when the whole paragraph is taken in context.

Anyway, after spending a week wading through this I am left with one burning question.

Why?

Doug Millroy can be reached at dmillroy@gmail.com.

 

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