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“I’m not on leave,” says Town lawyer

Town solicitor Heather Salter is gardening at home and volunteering with the United Way at the expense of Fort Erie taxpayers.

“There was an in-camera meeting. There was a vote taken. Subsequent to that, I’m no longer at work,” Salter told The Ridgeway Herald.

“I’m not on leave.”

Reprinted from the April 30, 2012 edition of The Ridgeway Herald.

Salter’s absence from work as the director of legal and legislative services and Town solicitor began at 4 p.m. April 16, one week after town council vaguely directed staff “to act in accordance with the instructions of council with respect to the personal matter about an identifiable individual.”

Councillors Paul Collard, John Hill, Don Lubberts and Bob Steckley voted for the instruction while Mayor Doug Martin, Stephen Passero and Rick Shular opposed it.

Acting chief administrative officer Ron Tripp said Salter was on leave and refused to divulge anything else.

Mayor Doug Martin went a little further, saying she was on “paid administrative leave” and that a statement would be made when the matter is settled.

“Well, that’s very interesting,” Salter said. “How about I tell you that’s not true and you go back to the Town and tell them you spoke to me and I said, no, I’m not on leave. Maybe the Town would care to explain exactly where I am and why I’m not at work.”

Was she fired?

“You need to ask the Town that. The Town seems to be having some difficulty answering questions about my departure. I’m very curious what the Town has to say in response to that question,” she said.

“I’m not here of my own volition. Put it that way.”

Will she be coming back?

“I don’t believe so, no.”

Does she want to come back?

“That’s actually an interesting question. You know, I haven’t considered it, to be perfectly honest. I don’t think it’s in the cards.”

This chapter of the saga began Feb. 27 when Martin gave notice that two issues would be discussed in a closed session of council in a future meeting.

One was a legal objection to the Town’s application for “title absolute” to the Bay Beach lands — a registration process that is required to transfer the property for the condominium project.

The other topic was “member of council actions relative to ongoing litigation involving the municipality.”

Council went into closed session March 26 starting at 7:46 p.m. with Salter and Tripp in attendance along with clerk Carolyn Kett and human resources manager Tom Mather.

Salter left the meeting 34 minutes later and Mather “educated council on certain policies relative to the personal matter about an identifiable individual,” according to the minutes. “The acting CAO addressed the matter as well following which council discussed the matter and asked questions of staff.”

Collard presented a motion “directing staff to act in accordance with certain instructions.”

This went on until 10:20 p.m. when council took another five minutes to discuss an update on the recruitment for a  CAO.

When council emerged from the closed session, Collard’s motion was deferred to the next regular council meeting.

Following a short open session April 10, council again went into closed session in which the CAO and the HR manager provided information and “council engaged in a question and answer session,” states the minutes which were released April 20.

Collard’s original motion from two weeks earlier was withdrawn and a new similarly vague motion was passed in a 4-3 vote. “Staff be directed to act in accordance with instructions of council.”

Was Salter’s departure related to that motion?

“I would say so, yes,” said Salter.

“There is nothing in this situation that I have anything to be embarrassed about. I haven’t done anything inappropriate, wrong or unprofessional,” she said.

“When the Town decides to provide an explanation to people, I’ll respond to that. That’s where the questions have to be answered,” she said.

“There isn’t anything in the truth of this that I’m not prepared to discuss publicly. I have absolutely nothing that I’m not willing to disclose or discuss with people. I have nothing to hide, be ashamed of or embarrassed or any other such thing,” Salter said.

“So, when the Town does come clean with what’s going on, give me a call.”

Salter’s trouble with council began from the beginning of this term when the bloc of four councillors started their efforts to dismantle the Bay Beach development agreement with the Molinaro Group.

It had been an endless source of exasperation for the Town solicitor and other staff, cynical amusement for the press and anger among some members of the public.

Since last spring, the director of planning, Rino Mostacci, and CAO Harry Schlange have taken higher paying jobs elsewhere.

“All municipalities have these difficult periods they go through,” Salter said. “It’s not uncommon, and it’s not uncommon for senior civil servants to pay the price for that either.”

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