Absence of departing CAO at Midland council meeting eye-catching

There was an empty CAO seat in front of the raised dais during Wednesday night’s regular meeting of council, just in front of where the mayor of Midland sat.

Mayor Bill Gordon has been meticulous in taking time to slow down the municipal process since being elected into the leadership role in November. Each meeting has had moments where Gordon paused the process to explain the happenings of politics to the audience in the council chamber as well as for those watching virtually; his self-described verbosity allows regular people who don’t quite grasp politics to follow along with relative ease.

Yet, no mention was made in the meeting of the sudden retirement of David Denault as chief administrative officer for Midland over the past three years, nor to Denault’s absence during the council session.

While the transfer of power is a fairly common sight as new politicians take over new positions and restructure their staff to their liking, a matter of recognition for the services of the departing usually goes hand-in-hand.

Denault and Gordon clashed during the previous term when Gordon was a councillor for the town, with Denault filing a complaint to the integrity commissioner regarding Gordon’s actions on Midland Bay Landing, which was deemed allowable.

On Tuesday, the town released a press release announcing Denault’s early retirement effective Jan. 20, with MidlandToday sharing words from both Gordon and Denault on the matter. In the article, both men extended gratitude and thanks for the time Denault served as CAO.

That wasn’t the case during council, where Gordon said nothing about the absent chair nor Denault’s departure to those following along; an omission noticeable among Gordon’s other thorough explanations regarding procedure and policy.

In the opening remarks, Gordon paid homage to two residents who had passed away recently, including prominent politician David Onley. In a heated discussion on speeding at the end of the meeting, Gordon also looked to “acting CAO” Andy Campbell as well as pointing out another staff member in the audience.

During the announcements portion of the meeting, both Gordon and fellow council members had the opportunity to speak to the absence, with no one addressing the matter.

Another instance occurred during last month’s council meeting where tension rose during a back-and-forth between Coun. Bill Meridis and Denault regarding town staffing, as Meridis advocated for a hiring freeze citing service data which Denault countered was incorrect.

Prior to Denault's retirement announcement, Coun. Jamie-Lee Ball stated she was impressed with the "absolute talent" and "amount of work and dedication" that town staff had in their roles, adding that if the public had questions regarding staff positions that available information would be shared in a transparent manner.

In a response to questions from MidlandToday on the matter, Denault stated that there were no issues with how his absence was dealt with at the council meeting.

“I have always preferred to pass on personal acknowledgements as this is very much a team effort and I couldn’t be prouder of our team and what we have done together,” replied Denault by email. “There were also many members of the public to acknowledge so I am pleased they were recognized.

“I’ll take some time with family and friends, travel a bit and then consider looking towards other opportunities. Dealing with the pandemic and other challenges hasn’t always been easy but it was rewarding to do it with this team.”

Gordon also replied to MidlandToday, agreeing that the press release was sufficient and acknowledgement of others was of importance, but denied that there was conflict between Denault and staff for which residents should be made aware.

“David has a long history as a trusted advisor and organizational leader,” replied Gordon, “and while there may be differences of opinion, as is normal, there has always been a professional respect for the roles of those elected and those in the administration. David is very proud of the team supporting the town and confident that with continued mutual respect for the roles played by all involved Midland will be very well served.”

He added, “David and the senior leadership team have been fortunate to support a team that embodies a commitment to service, value, creativity and caring for the community and each other. These qualities are part of the culture that remains.”

Council meetings are held every third Wednesday, and can be attended virtually through Zoom by contacting the clerk’s department of Midland town hall for a link to the meeting.

Council meetings can also be viewed on Rogers TV cable channel 53, or through the livestream on the Rogers TV website. Archives of council meetings are available through Rogers TV and on the Town of Midland’s YouTube channel.

Derek Howard, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, MidlandToday.ca