By Chad Ingram
Published June 15 2017
Minden Hills councillors are disagreeing over whether members of the Minden Hills fire department should be subject to employee performance appraisals.
A heated conversation on the subject took place during a June 8 committee-of-the-whole meeting.
On direction from council fire chief Doug Schell had drawn up a report on conducting performance reviews for firefighters.
It was Schell’s recommendation that council not proceed with such a process.
“Personally I don’t see the benefit of this” Schell told councillors. “They do give up a lot for the benefit of the community. It’s just adding more stress to the firefighters.”
He also pointed out that such reviews are not conducted within the other municipalities of Haliburton County which also have volunteer fire departments.
“I checked with the three other municipalities and they don’t do performance reviews of their firefighters” Schell said.
The chief added that recruiting volunteers to the department can be challenging enough and that being subject to performance reviews may make recruitment more difficult or alienate existing firefighters.
“Performance reviews should be a positive experience for everyone” said Councillor Jeanne Anthon adding that she “felt very isolated from that area” of the township.
As Schell and fire training officer Mike Bekking pointed out Minden Hills firefighters are already assessed on their skills within the department.
“Their skills are reviewed by myself” Bekking said. “Firefighting is basically a skills occupation. Their skills are appraised through skill sheets.”
Schell pointed out that not all firefighters perform the same functions so it would be difficult to establish a consistent assessment process.
“There are some people who just want to drive the truck” he said. “It’s going to be different for everybody.”
Councillor Pam Sayne took exception to the concept calling it micromanaging of the fire department.
“I was actually pretty shocked to see we were doing a performance review of volunteer firefighters when we haven’t even done a review on senior staff in three years” Sayne said.
Council recently decided that performance reviews for township’s chief administrative officer will be conducted by the personnel committee which consists of Reeve Brent Devolin Deputy-reeve Cheryl Murdoch and Councillor Jeanne Anthon.
An assessment of CAO/treasurer Lorrie Blanchard had not been completed since she was promoted to the role from treasurer three years ago.
Sayne said she also believes the township shouldn’t have a personnel committee and that matters currently discussed by the committee should be discussed by all of council.
“We’ve never seen minutes of the personnel committee” Sayne said. “How did this come forward? I don’t even know.”
The recommendation for investigating performance reviews for firefighters came from the personnel committee.
Councillors Ron Nesbitt and Lisa Schell agreed with Sayne that performance reviews for firefighters would be an unnecessary move.
“Performance reviews have been done on firefighters in this jurisdiction before” said Reeve Brent Devolin.
Assessments had been completed on firefighters in the late 1990s but according to a report from Schell the practice was discontinued in the early 2000s as it was deemed unnecessary.
“A performance review is not meant to be a punitive process” said Councillor Jean Neville adding the process was supposed to be about personal growth.
“None of us like a performance review let’s face it” said Sayne.
“I disagree” said Devolin. “This is not supposed to be a punitive thing.”
There was also discussion around whether volunteer firefighters should be considered volunteers or employees since they are paid for attending calls and their responsibilities are greater than those of other township volunteers.
“They’re not volunteers in my mind” said Devolin adding that “an employee is an employee is an employee.”
Devolin said he had questions around labour law when it came to volunteer firefighters and the issue was deferred until Blanchard who was absent from last week’s meeting could be present to answer questions.