July 8, 2021 (3 Minute Read)
Former City of Brampton’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) Harry Schlange continues to generate headlines…but not the front-page headlines that municipalities crave to promote.
Schlange started his role as the municipality’s top bureaucrat in Fort Erie, a small border town in the Niagara region with a population of about 28,000. During his 6-year tenure in Fort Erie, he strategically assembled his own management team. Thereafter, he left Fort Erie to pursue a career opportunity in Ottawa at the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association. Less than a year later, he returned back to Niagara to become the CAO for the Regional Municipality of Niagara.
As the CAO for Niagara Region, Schlange commenced a number of terminations involving senior staff in key positions. The severance costs in firing these senior employees were significantly high. He then re-assembled his Fort Erie management team, hiring Ron Tripp into Public Works, Rino Mostacci into Planning, and Helen Chamberlain into Finance. He also placed close allies into key positions, such as Chris McQueen into Strategic Performance, Jason Burgess into Procurement, and Bob Seguin into Economic Development.
His tenure became tumultuous when friction occurred between Schlange and the political leadership. The Region was making headlines for failed capital projects, such as the Burgoyne Bridge (which was laced with purchasing problems and doubled in costs) and the Niagara-on-the-Lake sewage treatment plant (which was constructed years behind schedule and continues to be mired in lawsuits). There were also disagreements with the annual increases in property taxes. The friction between the CAO and Council became so untenable that Schlange left the position in order to become the CAO for the City of Brampton.
The Brampton Affair
Schlange was hired by Mayor Linda Jeffrey and her Council.
At Brampton, Schlange once again made headlines that would cause other municipalities to shudder. In a single day, he purged City Hall with 25 senior staffers, creating an operational brain drain and setting new thresholds in severance payouts. Similar to his methods at Niagara Region, Schlange then filled these vacated roles with his own team. From Niagara Region to Brampton, he brought over Chis McQueen and Bob Seguin as his consultants. He also hired from Niagara Region, Fionna Peaceful into Human Resources and Erin O’Hoski into Strategic Performance.
Schlange also hired Bruce Zvaniga as his Commissioner of Public Works and Natalie Early (Zvaniga’s wife) into the Brampton CAO’s office.
His relationship with Brampton’s Mayor Jeffrey became rocky as property taxes continued to rise in order to pay for increased salary costs. However, Schlange was given a very lucrative employment contract and associated severance package, prior to the municipal election. With strong severance language, Schlange could continue operating freely without the concern or scrutiny of a newly elected Mayor or Council.
To his surprise, at the very first meeting of the newly elected Council, some of the returning Councillors saw the opportunity to make a change in the City’s direction. Verified sources have confirmed to the Bramptonist, that re-elected Councillor Pat Fortini had the vision and leadership to lead this change. At the inaugural meeting, both the returning and newly elected Councillors unanimously voted to part ways with Schlange, reluctantly paying his hefty severance (estimated at over $750,000) which was approved by the former Council. With Schlange gone, they set out to establish a new strategic path.
With a clear path and a new strategic direction, Brampton made different headlines that many municipalities can only dream of.
Brampton Council, with the support of a new management team, re-set their priorities that created these positive headlines. Council heavily invested in new public transportation priorities, negotiated with two universities (Guelph-Humber and Ryerson) to locate downtown, secured a medical school, advocated and achieved a second fully functional hospital, approved the Centre for Innovation, and established a partnership with other agencies to develop a Cybersecurity Centre. The City of Brampton become an award-winning employer and was selected as one of the best cities in Canada to live in.
From Brampton to Norfolk to Grimsby
Schlange on the other hand went on to become the CAO of Norfolk County. Without any recruitment process, Norfolk County simply retained him. Apparently, Schlange approached the Norfolk Mayor expressing his interest in working for the municipality after their previous CAO abruptly resigned. At Norfolk, his pattern of terminating and hiring his own team continued, with the hiring of his close colleagues Chris McQueen, Jason Burgess and Erin O’Hoski.
According to Bramptonist sources, friction developed between Schlange and Norfolk Mayor Kristal Chopp. He would then leave Norfolk, where McQueen then became Norfolk’s interim CAO, followed by Jason Burgess who got the CAO position full-time.
Today, Schlange hangs his hat back in Niagara as the CAO for the Town of Grimsby, where he is making new headlines. The friction between Schlange and Grimsby Mayor Jeff Jordan was immediately palpable and has created a split on Council, with a typical 5-4 voting pattern.
As reported by a local media outlet in Grimsby, Schlange was accused of misconduct by a group of employees. Mayor Jordan placed Schlange on temporary leave as a result of the allegations, but in a split council vote of 5-4, Council reinstated Schlange. According to the local reporter, “As soon as the vote was completed, some male staff in attendance bolted for the door. About a half-dozen female staff were in attendance as well. Several of them were moved to tears in the lobby after the meeting broke up.
On placing Schlange on temporary leave, Mayor Jordan stated to the local media, “I didn’t make any decision lightly I relied on both HR and municipal legal opinion before any action”, he continued, “I acted appropriately given the extremely difficult and sensitive situation and tried to protect everyone involved. If the same situation happened again I wouldn’t act any differently. I am proud of my town and our staff and will always act openly and transparently and in their best interests.”
Thereafter, Schlange has been actively purging employees in key positions, including those who made allegations against him. He has been filling those vacated roles with his close allies, including Antonietta Minichillo as the Director of Planning, who closely worked with Schlange in Brampton’s CAO office.
His tenure at Grimsby has irked the community. Grimsby is experiencing record-setting and out-of-control property tax increases for both residents and local businesses. There is a petition to investigate how Council hired Schlange in the first place, including his subsequent hiring practices. The petition reads, “we are respectfully requesting that the Province, namely the Honourable Steve Clark, Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing and/or the Honourable Sam Oosterhoff, MPP Niagara West and/or the Ombudsman of Ontario, Mr. Paul Dubé, to begin an immediate and independent investigation into Mr. Schlange and his activities at the Town of Grimsby in addition to the initial hiring of Harry Schlange to the CAO position.”
Former Grimsby Mayor Bob Bentley publicly commented on the petition calling for Schlange’s investigation. He wrote: “The performance and total disregard for the well-being of Grimsby residents, this council for their oath of office, this term of council has been a disaster for the town’s future. The criteria and details of hiring of Mr. Schlange need to be investigated.”
The Flow Back from Brampton to Niagara
Joining Harry Schlange in Niagara is Bruce Zvaniga. Acting CAO Ron Tripp has appointed Zvaniga as the Commissioner of Public Works for Niagara Region without any job competition. Later, Tripp would hire his Zvaniga’s wife, Natalie Early, as his Director of Corporate Strategy in the CAO’s office.
Fionna Peaceful would also return to Niagara, obtaining a job with Niagara Health Systems. Erin O’Hoski is working as a consultant, landing jobs with Grimsby, West Lincoln and Niagara Region.
Jason Burgess quit Norfolk to become the CAO for the City of Niagara Falls. And Chris McQueen was appointed as Vice President of Operations at Vineland Research and Innovation Centre located in Niagara.
After venturing into Brampton, the family cabal has safely returned back home.