Excluded from her party, rejected by her former colleagues, ordered not to communicate with her borough director, Côte-des-Neiges—Notre-Dame-de-Grâce mayor Sue Montgomery is still not backing down.
“At the end of the day, I have myself to live with,” she said Sunday on why she’s refusing to fire her chief of staff, Annalisa Harris.
“I’m not throwing Annalisa under the bus,” Montgomery said. “It goes against everything I hold dear: justice and truth.”
On Friday, Mayor Valérie Plante expelled Montgomery from the Projet Montréal caucus for refusing to dismiss Harris, after an investigation by the city’s comptroller general that found two civil servants in her office had been subjected to harassment.
“The law tells us that we must put a stop to psychological harassment,” city comptroller Alain Bond said Sunday in an interview with the Montreal Gazette.
Bond said two members of his team interviewed 12 people in the borough office, including Montgomery and Harris. They reported the two employees had been given short deadlines for producing reports, not received clear instructions on how to do a task, told their work was done badly, reprimanded, sometimes in front of others, and, once, asked to come into the office to open the door because Harris had forgotten her keys.
But in an interview with the Montreal Gazette, Montgomery said the crux of the problem was that 11-year borough director Stéphane Plante — one of the two employees who were allegedly harassed — made the harassment claim after she told him she was dissatisfied with his work and wanted to make a change.
Montgomery did not identify the second employee who was allegedly harassed but said she believed that person had been manipulated.
She said she intended to carry on as borough mayor and will sit as an independent in city council on Monday. However, governing the borough is a challenge because Valérie Plante’s office has ordered her not to communicate with Stéphane Plante (no relation), with whom the city is negotiating a departure package, she said.
Problems with the borough director began soon after Montgomery, a former Montreal Gazette justice reporter, was elected as mayor of the west end borough in November 2017, she said.
For example, she said, she asked Stéphane Plante to order a structural audit of the former Empress Theatre on Sherbrooke St. W. This was necessary to enable the borough to move forward on repurposing the landmark — one of Montgomery’s campaign promises, she said. Stéphane Plante assured her he had done so. However, when she asked him to send her the contract for the audit, he admitted it had not been ordered and blamed another employee for the oversight, she said.
Stéphane Plante did not immediately respond to a request for comment sent by email. Mayor Valérie Plante’s office said it had nothing to add beyond Friday’s announcement.
Montgomery said the difficulty getting things done in the borough was slowing progress on initiatives on the N.D.G. Food Depot, Walkley Centre and unsanitary housing.
She sought advice from the city’s human resources department on how to replace the borough director, but instead of providing guidance, they launched the investigation into the workplace climate in her office.
Bond said that instead of reprimanding the two employees when work was not done properly, Montgomery and Harris should have helped them to improve by better explaining what needed to be done and breaking down tasks into manageable goals.
He also said that Montgomery walked out of a meeting with him and other officials from the city’s human resources department after they outlined the conclusions of their investigation.
Bond said that he ordered that Harris have no further contact with the two employees who were harassed as of the beginning of January. She has been working from home since then.
However, Montgomery said no one has shown her any proof that Harris actually harassed anyone, saying all she ever did was carry out her instructions. And she said she doesn’t buy the idea that a seasoned bureaucrat with 11 years at the helm of the borough really suffered harassment at the hands of her 27-year-old chief of staff.
“This is a senior bureaucrat who’s finally being held accountable and he’s crying harassment,” she said.
Montgomery said that when the two city employees who conducted the investigation visited the borough office, they questioned whether a feminist poster on her wall might make a male employee feel uncomfortable and asked whether Harris ever smiled.
“This is a kangaroo court,” she said.
Montgomery hired Harris in June to replace her previous chief of staff, Daniel Sanger.
“From Day 1, I realized Oh my God, this woman’s incredible. She’s competent, she’s professional, she’s respectful, she’s working 12-hour days,” she said.
Montgomery also denied reports that Harris had summarily fired Sanger, who was briefly seconded to another position in the office after Harris replaced him as chief of staff. She said she terminated him herself after realizing that keeping him on staff exceeded her budget.
Sanger, who had previously worked in the Plateau-Mont-Royal borough, has reached a settlement with the city over his dismissal, she said.
Montgomery said she learned she had been turfed from the party when media outlets called to ask her reaction to Mayor Valérie Plante’s announcement on Friday at 4:26 p.m. She noticed she had missed a call 20 minutes earlier from the mayor’s chief of staff, Marie-Ève Gagnon, she said.
“I’m disappointed,” said Montgomery, who hasn’t heard from any of her colleagues in Projet Montréal, although many of her constituents have expressed support.
“It’s going to be a lonely road,” she said.