No ‘cavalier conspiracy’ in Byrne firing; Underwood

Heather Wright Photo

Heather Wright Photo

Lambton Shores councilors were forced to defend council’s decision to fire CAO John Byrne during a public meeting in Forest.

Byrne was suspended Nov. 13 with pay. He was dismissed in January after lawyers for Byrne and the municipality reached an agreement. The news release issued by Lambton Shores said the long-time CAO was released because the municipality was “moving in a new direction.”

About 50 residents at an open house Tuesday hosted by Forest-area councilors Martin Underwood and Ken McRea, wanted to know what that means.

“The new direction was why you fired John Byrne; that was the answer we got. There has to be a way to articulate what that (reason for his dismissal) is. If the cause of his firing was not a new direction, just say so,” says Jerry Rupke.

“That was a term that was seized on,” says Underwood. “New direction? It’s more like a recalibration. There is no change or backing away from the things already decided…The new direction is just a re-look at what we’re doing.”

Underwood faced repeated questions about the firing, including one resident who asked him if rumors of illegal activity were true. A frustrated Underwood, who had said a number of times there was little he could say because of the confidentiality agreement, tried to explain further.

“Council made a decision…it was not some cavalier conspiracy…it was not an easy decision. We made a decision on the basis of the information we had,” says Underwood. “There was no illegal or criminal activity that we know of.”

And Underwood says its unlikely a lot more information about the dismissal will be released. “We’re protecting things because it is the law. It was a signed agreement. I’ve told you everything I possibly can.”

Residents were also concerned about the morale of the rest of the staff, saying employees in the Forest office were concerned for their jobs after the management shakeup.

“Do I think it (morale) is great? No…Do I think it is at the bottom? No. Is there room for improvement? Yes,” says Underwood.

“The best thing is to have a clear direction with a new CAO so employees can feel safe… and go out there and do what they do.”

– Heather Wright