Sue Montgomery abandoned by 3 remaining Projet Montréal councillors in Côte-des-Neiges—NDG
Citizens' group loads onto bus, heads to meeting to show support for embattled borough mayor
Projet Montréal's three remaining councillors in Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce have turned their back on borough Mayor Sue Montgomery, but the embattled politician stood her ground during Monday night's borough council meeting while the jam-packed audience cheered in support.
Montgomery, who was elected in 2017, was kicked out of the party on Jan. 24 for her refusal to fire her chief of staff, Annalisa Harris, following a harassment investigation by the city's comptroller general.
Montgomery expressed concern that she had not been allowed to see the comptroller general's full report and said she would not go against Montreal's own policy by firing an employee without due process. That would include steps such as giving an employee warnings, she said — or at the very least, being able to explain in detail the nature of the accusations against her.
A citizens' group loaded with NDG residents crowded onto a rented school bus to get to Monday evening's meeting, with about 150 people packing the borough council chambers on Décarie Boulevard. It was standing room only.
But despite a strong show of support for Montgomery, councillors Peter McQueen, Magda Popeanu and Christian Arseneault are siding with Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who made the decision to oust Montgomery from caucus.
As the meeting got underway, Montgomery acknowledged Harris in the audience, and the crowd erupted in applause. She said her chief of staff is competent, intelligent, professional and respectful.
"Her only crime was to do her job," the mayor said. "I need information on the contracts, the budget and public spending."
Montgomery said Harris was trying to get that information from a senior bureaucrat in the borough, but that bureaucrat has "been blocking efforts to move the borough forward."
Montgomery said Plante knows the content of the report is bogus, but asked her to fire Harris anyway.
Recounting her conversation, Montgomery quoted Plante as saying, "'You have to fire Annalisa and make this go away.' And I said. 'Have you seen the report?' And she said 'No, I know it's bullshit. I know but you've got to fire her.' I said, 'I will not.'"
In a statement Monday night, Plante's office denied the mayor ever said that.
'No compromise when it comes to harassment'
Montgomery's former allies on the borough council sat stone-faced while the borough mayor defended her decision and lauded her chief of staff. Earlier Monday, the three Projet Montréal councillors released a statement, explaining why they support Plante's response to Montgomery's handling of the comptroller general's findings.
"The inability of Sue Montgomery to deal with this issue and to ensure a safe and comfortable workplace has seriously affected our ability to provide the citizens of this borough the quality of services which they deserve and which we were elected and took an oath to provide," they said in a joint statement released Monday afternoon.
"We are all deeply upset by Ms. Montgomery's decision to reject the recommendations of the comptroller general and to question the credibility of the professionals who conducted the inquiry."
The statement says the three councillors believe that Montgomery is "not thinking of the good of the citizens and has decided to make this a personal crusade," and there can be "no compromise when it comes to harassment."
The investigation and reports were exhaustive, and in light of the conclusions of psychological harassment toward two borough employees, the comptroller general gave clear recommendations that were not open to interpretation, the statement says.
It goes on to say the three councillors wish to assure borough citizens that "we are committed to getting back to work" and that opposition councillors Lionel Perez and Marvin Rotrand are "ready to work with us."
Employee at home collecting full pay
Arseneault, elected in 2017 to represent the Loyola district, spoke out strongly against Montgomery's decision to defy the comptroller general's recommendation to bar the chief of staff from contacting civic employees.
Had the mayor done that back in December, events wouldn't have unfolded as they have, he said.
Montgomery was given a summary of the findings on Dec. 6 but was denied access to the full report, the city has said, because she is named in it — described as being "willfully blind in one of the psychological harassment files."
Arseneault said the "highest confidentiality" must be assured in cases of harassment, and it's the mayor's job to protect her employees.
Montgomery has been served a cease-and-desist order for naming those in the report publicly, he said. He said her decisions are creating a "dysfunctional situation" at the borough.
He said one employee is staying home and receiving full pay because she hasn't been assured a healthy workplace.
Citing Montgomery's own past as a victim of harassment, he said, "We find it shocking that instead of believing the victims as she encourages others to do, she has flatly refused to recognize their claims."
Community shows support for Montgomery
Alex Montagano, who co-organized the citizen movement to show support for the borough mayor, says he was disappointed to learn that the three remaining Projet Montréal councillors in the borough are walking the party line.
In a borough that has been the target of corruption investigations in the past and was once run by the now-disgraced former mayor, Michael Applebaum, there was a growing hope that Montgomery and her team would finally bring change, he said.
"I never expected this," he said. "There was a lot of hope all around."
Now that there is so much divisiveness on the borough council, Montagano said, he is "very concerned about the future of our borough."