Former mayor claims "name calling and belligerent behaviour"
(Canadian OH&S News) — The rural municipality of Ritchot, Man. has been thrown into political disarray, following the recent resignation of its mayor and two councillors — who are citing bullying and a hostile work environment as their reasons.
Mayor Jackie Hunt resigned from her position on April 28, followed by two of Ritchot’s four councillors, Jeannot Robert and Ronald Mamchuk, on May 1. Hunt described her decision to quit as “heartbreaking” in a press statement she released on May 2.
“When a Council cannot function as a group, and when mediation does not work, and when name calling and belligerent behaviour become the norm, it is time to reevaluate your spot at the table,” wrote Hunt in the statement.
“There is currently no mechanism in The Municipal Act that allows for elected officials to be disciplined for behaviour that would not be tolerated in any other work environment. There is a Council Code of Conduct, but it allows only for censuring, which is ultimately a public slap on the wrist.”
Hunt added that she hoped her resignation would spur a dialogue between the Manitoba and municipal governments about how to protect people who want to serve their communities. “If I stayed and did nothing, then I became [sic] complicit and accepting of the behaviour,” she wrote. “We are trying to encourage people to run for public office, and we need to ensure they are protected from bullying and inappropriate behaviour.”
Mitch Duval, the chief administrative officer with the Municipality of Ritchot, declined to discuss any specific details about the situation with COHSN.
“There’s not much I could say, other than I’ve received three resignations,” said Duval, adding that he had advised the provincial government of the situation and was awaiting further information.
“It’s politics. We’re trying to proceed, business as normal.”
Local media reports have stated that another Ritchot councillor, Ernie Dumaine, pounded his fist on a table and called Hunt a “f—–g b—h” at a public forum in St. Adolphe, in front of around 80 people, about a week before she resigned. The forum was reportedly intended to discuss a permit for an outdoor skating rink. Dumaine has also been accused of making an obscene gesture at Hunt during a previous meeting.
Dumaine and Corinne Webb, the fourth councillor for Ritchot, have reportedly denied that Hunt was bullied at either meeting.
This is not the first time Dumaine has been accused of belligerent behaviour towards his colleagues. In Dec. 2011, he was charged with threatening the life of Louis Rouire, a public-works foreman with the Municipality. He was reportedly fined $200 and ordered to apologize to his accuser.
In her resignation statement, Hunt said that she was planning to focus on her family and on charitable work. She thanked the staff of the Municipality for their support and dedication, mentioning Robert, Mamchuk and Duval by name.
“I had the opportunity to work with some of the finest people,” she wrote. “Not only staff, but community groups, planners, developers and elected officials from other municipalities and other levels of government.
“I always served my municipality with integrity and put its needs ahead of my own.”
Ritchot is located just south of Winnipeg and has a population of less than 6,700, according to Statistics Canada’s last census. About two-fifths of the population are francophone.