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Erin water transition sparks staff lawsuits

by Phil Gravelle

ERIN - Last year’s decision by the Town of Erin to transfer water operations from town staff to the Ontario Clean Water Agency (OCWA) has led to two wrongful dismissal claims.

Former water superintendent Joe Babin and foreman Lou Lauryssen have filed civil suits, alleging inadequate notice or pay in lieu of notice after being let go last summer.

In May 2018, town council agreed to contract out water services, and some water department employees joined OCWA staff.

Babin is reportedly seeking $500,000 in damages and Lauryssen $175,000. The town has filed a statement of defence.

“Both employees in question were afforded the opportunity to explore continued employment with the Ontario Clean Water Agency and both declined,” said Erin communications officer Jessica Spina.

“The town maintains that it has continued to treat both employees more than fairly during this period.”

There is the possibility of mediation to settle such disputes, but Spina said, “As the case is before the courts, we are unable to comment on potential resolutions.”

On April 24, after a closed session and a public presentation by a consultant, council voted 3-2 to enter negotiations with OCWA, based on a bid that promised annual savings of more than $200,000 in a five-year deal.

It was a controversial decision, with no public notice or staff report on the matter, and Babin was not allowed to speak during or after the meeting.

Councillors Jeff Duncan and John Brennan voted against the negotiations with OCWA, expressing concern the mayor and CAO were authorized to sign the contract without council seeing it. They signed the agreement on June 11.

Council’s intention was to save money that could be used for water infrastructure improvements or offset the need for water rate increases.

“Council has to make a decision that’s best for the whole town. We’ve never treated anybody unfairly,” said Mayor Allan Alls.

“I’m happy with the Ontario Clean Water Agency; they’re a crown corporation, so we have a better water system and we’re saving money.”

OCWA operates water and wastewater systems for more than 180 clients. They now share liability with the Town of Erin for any problems with the water systems.

Water systems in Hillsburgh and Erin village continue to be owned by the municipality, with town council responsible for oversight.

January 11, 2019

 
 

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