If Sault Ste. Marie City Council wasn't deeply divided before last month's blow-up between Mayor John Rowswell and Chief Administrative Officer Joe Fratesi, it certainly was after the Sault Star's Elaine Della-Mattia got wind of the story, according to new confidential e-mails obtained by SooToday.com using provincial freedom-of-information law.
Just one hour after Della-Mattia started calling councillors to ask about an e-mail that had been leaked to her, Fratesi was on the case, sending an e-mail of his own to City councillors and City Solicitor Lorie Bottos.
Fratesi said the situation was out of hand and needed to be corrected before it completely undermined City operations.
In the message leaked to Della-Mattia, Rowswell complained that Fratesi's "aggressive and disrespectful speech" was affecting his health. "Fix him or get rid of him," the mayor urged his City Council colleagues.
SooToday.com used a freedom-of-information request to obtain all correspondence relating to the January 6 agenda-setting meeting that triggered the leaked e-mail and Della-Mattia's subsequent story.
"I'm asking council to do whatever it is that is required to put us all back on good footing," Fratesi says in a new e-mail, labelled "very confidential," obtained by SooToday.com. "The Corporation of the City of Sault Ste. Marie needs to be put first and foremost ahead of any individual members of the organization and it is important that the right things be done immediately," the CAO said.
"Hopefully my e-mail does not find its way to the Sault Star as well," Fratesi said in his message to councillors.
The CAO was not aware that Rowswell had sent the message complaining about his conduct to councillors until Della-Mattia read the e-mail to him and asked for his comments.
"I think council is well aware of the frustration that I am feeling," Fratesi said in his message to City Council. "I attempted to do my best during the CAO appraisal meeting to explain the difficulty that any CAO would have when the roles and responsibilities of all parties who interrelate are not understood and accepted. I also expressed my concern about the mayor not hiding his dislike for me."
"I do not and would not ask that I would be provided with such a copy [of the mayor's leaked e-mail to councillors]," said Fratesi. "She [Della-Mattia] did read it in its entirety to me and my comments to her were that I did not believe that I had been unprofessional or disrespectful and that the discussion was more about the need to understand and respect each other's roles."
Before the January 6 meeting, Fratesi had sent an e-mail to councillors asking them to message or call him if they were interested in serving on the committee that will seek a replacement for retiring Fire Chief Lynn McCoy.
At least two councillors responded with interest, but Rowswell arbitrarily rejected the first two because they were supposedly "in Joe's back pocket," Fratesi said.
"It was these comments that sparked my comments regarding the need to understand our respective roles and to understand the difference between administration and policy-making," wrote Fratesi. "I also repeated on several occasions that this harassment needed to stop and that we all needed to make better use of our time for this organization."
Several councillors replied to Fratesi's message, also expressing concern about the leaking of confidential information to Della-Mattia.
"I too am very disturbed with the media having this e-mail," was Ward 1 Councillor James Caicco's response to Fratesi's message. "It puts [Ward 6 Councillor] Ozzie [Grandinetti] and myself in a very uncomfortable position," Caicco said.
Grandinetti and Caicco both attended the January 6 agenda review meeting, along with City Clerk Donna Irving, the mayor and CAO Fratesi.
"I would like to find out who leaked this and would also like to discuss this component when we meet in terms of whether there are any legal methods we can undertake to determine how Elaine received this," wrote Ward 3 Councillor Bryan Hayes in his response to Fratesi.
"The situation needs to be corrected as soon as possible," Hayes said.
Della-Mattia called Hayes the morning after Rowswell's e-mail went out, but the councillor told her he couldn't comment on it until he read it and spoke to whomever was referred to in the document.
Ward 2 City Councillor Susan Myers referred to the 'Elaine aspect' in discussing the situation.
The day after the Sault Star story was printed, things heated up even more.
Rowswell sent out a new e-mail, indicating that the events of the previous day indicated that members of council have fewer rights than employees when it comes to verbal abuse.
"It confirms staff run the show," the mayor said.
"Council, you have just come to live with this sad situation and really just never want to properly deal with," Rowswell wrote. "My disappointment here, is your acceptance of this is just the way it is. Not one of you asked if I was okay."
The full text of Mayor John Rowswell's confidential message to Council on January 6 follows:
After [Ward 1 Councillor] Jamie [Caicco] mentioned he wanted to be on the fire chief recruitment committee, I had stated that I would like to go on this committee.
Our CAO essentially blew up.
...To make a long story short, I have been threatened with a lawsuit and then our CAO suggested he wants a lot of money to leave.
I am sure our CAO has lots more to say but the disrespectful tone by our CAO was very much out of line.
Councillors [Ward 6 Councillor] Ozzie [Grandinetti] and our clerk were made uncomfortable by this attack on me.
Things did settle down and we finished the agenda.
However, I noticed that I was flushed and this happens when I experience stress because my system is now imbalanced.
I rely on medication and spikes in stress cause me to flush.
The CAO was out of line and council as a whole needs to address this.
I should not be made ill by aggressive and disrespectful speech in an unprofessional tone.
We have put up with this for years and it needs to stop.
I ask council to talk to Ozzie and Jamie and get their side of the story.
I did nothing to warrant this verbal abuse.
Council, he is your employee, fix him or get rid of him.
Mayor John Rowswell