Kingston, Ont. CAO defends city staff after senior staff member criticized by community group

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Kingston, Ont. CAO defends city staff after senior staff member criticized by community group
CAO Lanie Hurdle issued a public letter appearing to defend community services commissioner Paige Agnew – Sep 20, 2022

The City of Kingston’s chief administrator is asking the community to show more respect and dignity to front-line city staff and managers.

CAO Lanie Hurdle posted a letter on the city’s website on the same day as one of her commissioners came under fire for an interview she gave.

The Coalition of Kingston Communities group accused community services commissioner Paige Agnew of overstepping her role and wading into the political debate over housing on the old Davis Tannery lands.

Agnew said in a CBC radio interview that councillors may not have understood the complex environmental issues when they rejected a housing plan for the old Davis Tannery site.

It was Agnew’s planning team that recommended the project be approved.

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“I honestly think some of it, it was just such a difficult file that, you know, certain councillors just needed to feel that they were going to have the information that we weren’t able to give them at this stage,” Agnew told CBC Radio’s Ontario Morning.

“We just weren’t able to overcome that.”

The Coalition of Kingston Communities claims Agnew “cast doubt” on council’s decision to vote down the proposal.

“We just point to Section 227 of the Municipal Act, which requires of public servants that they implement council’s decisions,” says Christine Sypnowich, chair of the Coalition of Kingston Communities.

“That’s their job. And council had made its decision, and it was improper for commissioner Agnew to second-guess that decision, cast doubt on its wisdom. And to do that publicly was really quite improper indeed.”

In an interview with Global News on Monday, Mayor Bryan Paterson defended Agnew, saying she did nothing wrong.

“Having reviewed the interview, taking it in context, commissioner Agnew was very measured in her comments,” says Paterson.

“She defended her recommendation to council, and, ultimately, there was nothing wrong with that.”

Chief administrative officer Lanie Hurdle issued a letter on the same day Agnew was criticized by the citizens group.

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The CAO noted a growing trend of hostility and disrespect towards city staff, both front-line workers and management.

“I am concerned to see the tone of the discourse and interactions taking place where decorum and respect have been forgotten, and it’s OK to make broad negative statements about a person and publicly attack staff,” says Hurdle.

Hurdle declined to do an interview to clarify, since she doesn’t name Agnew or any staff member personally anywhere in the letter.

She doubled down on her stance regarding the treatment of staff in her letter.

“It’s not OK,” says Hurdle.

“Not now, not ever. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity.”

As for Agnew, the embattled commissioner hasn’t spoken publicly about the criticism, though she will likely remain involved in the Tannery housing file, now that the developer has filed an appeal.

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