If you missed the end of the special meeting of the Council of the Town of Greater Napanee on Tuesday, Jul. 25, 2023, you weren’t alone; by the time 9:15 p.m. rolled around, most observers had left the chambers, and the online viewership had dwindled from around 85 to 20 hangers-on. That was when Fire Chief Bill Hammond stepped up onto a “soapbox,” in his words, to give Town Council a blunt message: “People don’t want to step into management positions in this organization right now.”
Hammond is the General Manager of Emergency Services for the Town of Greater Napanee, a position he has held since he was appointed interim Fire Chief in August 2022. He and the rest of the Town’s senior staff, with the notable exception of Brandt Zatterberg (General Manager of Community and Corporate Services for Napanee), had heard earlier in the evening how some councillors view municipal employees’ rights when Councillor Michael Schenk was not held responsible for his treatment of Zatterberg at a May 2023 meeting of Council, even though his behaviour broke the Code of Conduct for Council members.
Despite Schenk being found in contravention of the Code of Conduct, some councillors seemed to bend over backwards to defend their colleague. Councillor Bob Norrie called the complaint against Schenk, the investigation by the integrity commissioner, and her findings a “waste of taxpayer money” and indicated that public servants should have “thick skin” and “sort it out in the back room” when they feel they have been wronged by their employers.
Hammond scoffed, “Wow. Just wow.” Although this cannot be heard on the recording because staff microphones were turned off, it was not said quietly.
Meanwhile, Councillor Angela Hicks chastised staff about using their cellphones during council meetings, and Deputy Mayor Brian Calver insisted that Schenk “meant nothing ill” when he openly mocked a senior staff member in a council meeting, provoking more utterances of shock from the fire chief.
It seems the chief had heard enough. When he made his request to Council to hire a new deputy fire chief before the retirement of the current Deputy Chief Kevin Duncan, whose last day is slated for September 22, 2023, Councillor Schenk asked if the posting would be made externally or internally. Hammond stated that it would be an external posting.
Calver queried, “So we have nobody internally that would be capable of stepping up? Is that why we’re going externally, or…?”
Hammond said that no one currently on staff had shown interest in the job.
“Thank you. And of course,” said Mayor Terry Richardson, “if somebody takes an interest, they’re more than welcome to apply, I’m assuming. Am I right, Chief?”
“Absolutely,” answered Hammond, stating that there were some current paid on-call employees who might apply “because they have the qualifications.”
Hammond then took the opportunity to state evenly, “Unfortunately — and I will say this on my soapbox because I’ve listened to enough of it tonight, folks — people don’t want to step into management positions in this organization right now. And I’m being just as blunt as you were tonight with us. Thank you.”
Then he stood up and walked back to sit among the other staff.
Hammond, a veteran public servant, has been fighting fires for 27 years, working first as a volunteer while still working as a corrections officer; then taking a job at the Ontario Fire Marshal’s office in 2005; working as a full-time fire instructor with the Ontario Fire College in Gravenhurst until 2010; and then moving on to Burlington to become the Supervisor of Training there. In 2018, Hammond was hired by Greater Napanee Emergency Services (GNES) as Deputy Fire Chief.
He has had the opportunity in his five years in Napanee to watch as all departments experienced massive staff turnover. Hammond is the fourth new fire chief in five years. When Kingstonist previously asked if he could provide insight into that turnover, Hammond explained, “The fire chiefs before me either retired or moved on to other jobs… There’s been lots of movement in [Greater Napanee Emergency Services], period… We have a very rigorous training program, and it shines a spotlight on talent… We wish them luck and hope they return at some point with the experiences they gain.”
Rob Serson, former Greater Napanee Fire Chief, took a job as Chief and Community Emergency Management Coordinator for the Township of South-West Oxford, while former Chief Kevin Donaldson left to become Kingston’s Deputy Chief.
Hammond has also witnessed the resignation of two Chief Administrative Officers (CAOs), John Pinsent and before him Ray Callery, who have both found top jobs elsewhere with larger organizations. The Town Treasurer position has changed hands multiple times as well, with the latest treasurer, Nicole Davidson, resigning in the last month.
Other recent high-profile departures include Mark Day, former Deputy CAO/Treasurer; Susan Beckel, Town Clerk; Gib Garrett, former Planning Clerk & Coordinator; Rebecca Roy, former Deputy Chief Building Official; and Lyndsay Tee, former Manager of Economic Development.
Bill Hammond is out of town Wednesday, Jul. 26, 2023, according to his automated email response, and is not available for comment at this time. This is a developing story with more to come.