Napanee Fire Chief not backing down from fiery comments

Fire Chief Bill Hammond of Greater Napanee Emergency Services. Submitted photo.

Greater Napanee Fire Chief Bill Hammond has returned from his vacation, and he remains steadfast in the blunt statement he made to the Council of the Town of Greater Napanee at its Tuesday, Jul. 25, 2023 Special Council Meeting. 

Hammond’s comments Monday, Jul. 31, 2023, came in response to an interview request from Kingstonist while he happened to be away on a scheduled vacation. Readers will recall that the Chief spoke passionately at the special meeting after he asked Council to allow him to hire a new Deputy Fire Chief (DFC) when the current DFC retires in the fall. It was evident from his comments at that time that he had some very strong opinions regarding the statements made by members of Council at that meeting.

Early on at that July 25, 2023, meeting, a report was tabled by the Town’s Integrity Commissioner Laura Dean (IC). The IC  found that Councillor Mike Schenk’s behaviour at a May 2023 meeting of Council could be “viewed by a reasonable, objective person as an attempt to embarrass or undermine a Town Employee in a public forum,” and that by “targeting the Town Employee and calling into question his professionalism,” Schenk “failed to comply with sections 4.1(b), 5.3 and 5.4 of the Code of Conduct for Members of Council and Local boards.”

Given his own chance to speak, Hammond told the assembled councillors, “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.”

Now, in returning to Napanee and returning the request for an interview, Hammond said he would like to add a few things to his comments from that night, “just to straighten the record out.”

First, he addressed Councillor Angela Hicks’s castigation of staff for using cell phones during council meetings. Hammond stated that, in a modern workplace, smart phones are hand-held computers that provide access to information employees need.

“Most of us on staff don’t bring our laptops to council meetings; some of us only have desktop [computers],” he began. He pointed out that because of this, many staff members access their own reports, the agenda, and notes on their phones.

Councillor Angela Hicks refers to a document on her laptop at the July 11 session of Council. Screen captured image.

“Councillors often have questions for us during the meeting,” he said, pointing out that senior staff often access their files and notes and even text other employees who are watching the meeting from home, in order to answer questions.

It is perfectly natural and acceptable, in Hammond’s opinion, to use smartphones to “get information from our staff,” he noted. “So [Hicks’s comment] was out of line, and it was almost like we were being schooled. It wasn’t received very well [by staff].”

It should be noted that members of Council have tablets and laptops in front of them at meetings, and even Councillor Hicks often has her laptop open and refers to it during meetings, as she did on Tuesday, Jul. 11, 2023, when discussing a piece of correspondence from the Historical Society. At minute 59 of that meeting, she referenced “pulling up” the letter to read from.

“As far as the integrity commissioner’s report” is concerned, and the discussions that came with it, Hammond stated flatly, “I think that people got a true sense of the toxic work environment that we’re all working within under this council.” 

Specifically, Hammond addressed the comments from Councillor Bob Norrie about wasting taxpayers’ money when a complaint goes to the integrity commissioner.

“We’re following the policy voted on by Council,” explained Hammond. Council adopted the current Code, and Complaint Protocol which forms Appendix “B” to the Code, on January 28, 2020, by Resolution #68/20. 

Hammond said that the complainant addressed Councillor Schenk’s improper behaviour with a senior manager, but because the behaviour occurred at a Council meeting, it was proper protocol to address the complaint to the integrity commissioner. 

To Hammond’s point, the IC’s report states that the complaint was properly filed pursuant to the Code and subsection 223.4(1) of the Municipal Act, 2001. Section 4.1(b) of the Code expressly provides the integrity commissioner with explicit authority to consider the behaviour of members during meetings of Council. 

The IC made it clear at that meeting and in her report that “In our view, Council turned its mind to the question of whether the conduct of members at meetings would be under the sole and exclusive authority of the chair of the meeting or whether the Integrity Commissioner would have jurisdiction, and it determined that the latter approach was preferred.”

Hammond said that in discussions with individuals who would make good Deputy Chief candidates, he had found so far that no one working outside of Napanee was willing to apply for the job and possibly leave a good situation for the chance to “step into a toxic work environment.”

“So it’s just unfortunate,” Hammond concluded. “No member of staff at this point feels safe stepping up to a management role in this organization.”

Kingstonist will continue to monitor this matter and provide updated coverage as more information becomes available.

4 thoughts on “Napanee Fire Chief not backing down from fiery comments

  • Meanwhile , right or wrong , ? I’ve always spelled fiery thusly !

    • You are absolutely correct, David. We have corrected the spelling. Thank you for bringing that to our attention!

      -Tori Stafford, Editor-in-Chief, Kingstonist

Leave a Reply

You cannot copy content from this page, please share the link instead!