Midland is parting ways with CAO David Denault after nearly three years.
Denault, who joined the town’s administration just after the start of the pandemic in April 2020, will take an early retirement package, according to a town release.
While Mayor Bill Gordon declined to discuss the matter beyond what the town shared in a news release, he noted new councils often change “their own employee” as they carve out their own strategic plan and go in a different direction from the previous council.
“One on one, we had our differences, but still I’m only one voice,” Gordon said of his and Denault’s relationship over the previous term of council.
In the release, Gordon said Denault is a leader who quickly understood the town’s needs, financial pressures, and the challenges facing the community that provides vital economic and social services for the entire north Simcoe area.
“He was an advocate for the town at upper levels of government and our success in securing funding for several community projects during his tenure here is reflective of that commitment,” Gordon said in the release.
“We thank David for his mentorship, guidance, and dedication to the town’s residents, and especially for his unwavering leadership during the pandemic. We wish him well in his retirement after a long career as a dedicated public servant.”
Added Denault: “I’d like to extend my gratitude to everyone in Midland and our surrounding communities who help to serve and assist the residents and businesses in north Simcoe.
“Through a pandemic and with ongoing pressures affecting so many lives we have all responded with a spirit of co-operation that has allowed us to continue to make this town a very special place with a bright future.”
Denault, whose last day is Friday, agreed with Gordon's assessment that the move gives the new council a chance to revisit their strategic direction with a new CAO.
"I leave with gratitude and respect for those who choose to serve whether it is as an elected official or as a public servant," he told MidlandToday.
"I am most proud of the team we have and our partnership with our neighbours. We implemented and adapted to difficult decisions, analyzed and understood our challenges and found a way to keep our people and residents safe while delivering services through a pandemic.
"Our approved tax increases have been responsible with reinforcing our needs for the future and we have demonstrated our ability to deliver surpluses and savings so we can build a community that our residents and businesses value. Midland is a tremendous town with a bright future. I am grateful for the opportunity."
Midland’s deputy CAO, Andy Campbell, will step into the role as interim CAO while council begins its discussions to explore strategic leadership options for the town.
“He’s certainly got the capacity and skill set to do the job,” Gordon said of Campbell.
As for a permanent replacement, Gordon hinted the town may consider looking at partnership opportunities with its neighbours as its explores options to fill the role on a permanent basis.
And while the town’s release paints a fairly rosy picture of Gordon’s and Denault’s relationship, it wasn’t always that way as those who follow the goings-on of Midland municipal politics could likely attest.
Last spring, Denault filed a complaint with the integrity commissioner that sought to have Gordon disciplined regarding his suggestions that any decision on Midland Bay Landing be deferred to the next council.
In an email to Principles Integrity obtained by MidlandToday, Denault asked that Gordon be investigated for contravening council’s code of conduct.
“Furthermore, his actions are potentially jeopardizing a decision of council with regards to a multimillion-dollar procurement being co-ordinated by the Midland Bay Landing Corporation on behalf of council,” Denault wrote. “Comments from the (Midland Bay Landing Development Corporation) board chair (Bill Kernohan) are attached as is the request from me to Councillor Gordon to suspend his activity."
While the integrity commissioner determined Gordon did nothing wrong, Gordon hinted at friction with Denault during an interview with MidlandToday in June.
“It is truly unfortunate that our CAO has chosen to take an adversarial approach with me since Day 1,” Gordon told MidlandToday.
“The fact that the CAO does not share my concerns with the MBL development proposal is irrelevant to me and, as I have communicated to him on many occasions, he will have the opportunity to make his thoughts clear to us during the process and not instead of the process.”
When asked by MidlandToday about the complaint, Denault said his preference has always been to work with “individuals” on matters he feels are not in the best interest of the town or council.
“This matter was no different and attempts were made to make the councillor aware of the concerns and risks and I indicated the motion he was proposing wasn’t the issue,” Denault responded in an email.
“Anyone can raise a concern with the integrity commissioner. However, it is the only time I have felt compelled to use it and certainly not my preference.”
Gordon said the integrity commissioner’s report would clearly upset Denault and Kernohan.
“Advancing more unfounded complaints against me, whether to the OPP or the integrity commissioner, only shows how desperate some of this town administration, council and their board members are to silence a voice of dissent,” he said at the time.
“If I am returned to office as mayor this fall, changes to this toxic leadership culture will become a priority for me.”