Updated: Former Town Treasurer enters race just under the wire; not everyone is happy
Filing her nomination papers 24 hours before the deadline, Cari Pupo, once the Treasurer for the Town of Pelham, has thrown her hat into the ring for the Ward 1 council seat left vacant by the April passing of Councillor Mike Ciolfi.
Pupo was hired as Treasurer in 2008, taking over when the previous incumbent, Gord Cherney, retired. She came to the Town from the French public school board, where she was Director of Administrative Services. Pupo told the Voice on taking the job that she was the person to make sure that budgets weren’t overspent and problems were addressed as soon as possible. This diligence, she said, earned her the nickname “The Cop” in her previous job.
Yet in an abrupt move in May 2017, Pupo was fired by the previous mayor and council. No official explanation for the termination has ever been provided. However, sources with inside knowledge of the decision tell the newspaper that Pupo’s departure was occasioned by personal friction between her and other senior staff, and was not related to the Town’s financial issues, then being scrutinized by the Voice.
Pupo has recently criticized the Town for its slow response to neighbourhood complaints about an illegal duplex on Emmett Street, where she lives in Fonthill, in Ward 2. (Candidates for municipal office are not required to live in the ward they wish to represent.)
Reached for comment on Thursday evening, Pupo told the Voice, “This campaign is not about me it’s about the residents. My tenure at the Town was only about the residents. Now with my knowledge I want to make a change in this council and act on behalf of all of the residents.”
The Voice posted the preceding five paragraphs on its website last Thursday evening, concluding that a full interview with the candidate would appear in this week’s issue of the paper, something that Pupo had initially agreed to. Then the fireworks started.
After the web post appeared, Pupo emailed the newspaper repeatedly, requesting that the reference to her termination be removed. She additionally seemed to misunderstand the use of “scrutinized,” believing that it referred to her, which it did not, rather than to the Town’s finances, which it did.
In the meantime, two former staffers who worked in Pelham Town Hall during Pupo’s tenure contacted the Voice, apparently independently of each other, to express “shock” and “alarm” that the former Treasurer might once again find herself inside the municipality in any official capacity.
“[Pupo] likes to make it sound like she was fired because she got too close to ‘the truth,’ whatever that was,” said one former staffer, whose name the paper has agreed to withhold to protect their current employment. “But the only ‘truth’ is that she was basically a [very unpleasant person] to everyone. You saw how many people left Pelham around then. It was a toxic environment.”
A third ex-staffer declined to go into detail about their experience, responding to a request for comment saying that as a result of their years in Pelham their career “took a hit,” and that neither the Town nor Pupo was “something or someone I like to remember.”
The Voice reached out to another source present in Town Hall during 2017, who said they recalled that then-CAO Darren Ottaway was often absent for “days at a time,” leaving Pupo in de facto charge of the administration.
“She was bossy, there was no question, and she could be rough. It was a tough spot for her.”
I was given a report by the previous CAO suggesting I was responsible for harassing staff, which was absolutely false
In a commentary that ran in the January 8, 2020 edition of the Voice, Pupo herself recalled, “I was given a report by the previous CAO suggesting I was responsible for harassing staff, which was absolutely false.”
For some time, the Voice has heard speculation that Pupo was offered a chance to keep her job in 2017 if she agreed to undergo anger management counseling. Reached over the weekend, sources familiar with staff recommendations to council at the time confirmed this version of events. The Voice asked Pupo for comment.
In the course of 48 hours, the former Treasurer sent 31 emails to the Voice, using increasingly confrontational language, including a demand that the newspaper send her the names of its 50 community shareholders, and a legal threat: “You cannot put out anything about a firing. I will sue this paper.”
Pupo insisted that a previous “article” published by the Voice exonerated her, asserting, “a gentleman from Toronto I believe that called me over the phone wrote it.”
However, no such article exists. Instead, Pupo was referencing her own commentary, written by herself, that ran on January 8.
In her commentary, she said that after being given the report about her alleged harassment of staff, “the previous CAO and the previous mayor asked me to push through something that was not approved by council, as they didn’t want it publicly known.”
She continued, “I knew at that point, in early spring, that regardless if I did what they asked or didn’t, I was going to be fired….I believe the current Treasurer did what she could to try to hurt me even more than I had been hurt by being fired under false accusations.”
My firing has nothing to do with my candidacy
Pelham’s current Treasurer, Teresa Quinlin, declined to comment on these allegations in January, but elected to respond when asked again over the weekend.
“The former CAO did not ask me to do anything but my job as Treasurer,” said Quinlin. “The first thing I did when I started at the Town (under contract) was assess the financial position of the Town. That is what I reported to council about. This is a standard procedure for any incoming Treasurer. I have no animosity towards Ms Pupo.”
Former CAO Darren Ottaway, now the CAO of Cochrane, Ontario, did not respond to a comment request.
Pupo has previously declined to state specifically what improper action the former mayor and CAO allegedly requested of her, citing the limitations of a non-disclosure agreement (NDA) between her and the Town. However, there may in fact be no legal restraint prohibiting Pupo from speaking, as there is doubt among those with knowledge of the negotiations that Pupo ever actually signed an NDA as part of her termination settlement with the municipality. This would mean she would be free to discuss in detail her allegations of misconduct by the former CAO and mayor.
Asked whether there was a record of the Town executing an NDA with Pupo, Pelham CAO David Cribbs responded, “It is generally inappropriate for Town staff to make commentary, during an election period, upon identifiable individuals who are running for office. Accordingly the Town can not provide the information requested.”
Asked directly over the weekend whether she had signed an NDA, Pupo declined to answer.
In one of her emails to the Voice, she wrote, “As a writer in this paper you should not put false information in. I was fired for no reason and I can’t believe you are bringing up other reasons. You are a writer and I find it pathetic that you are suggesting what you did in the first article I wrote.”
After a follow-up request to confirm whether she was offered the option to remain employed if she had undertaken anger management counseling, Pupo responded with a single-line answer, “My firing has nothing to do with my candidacy.”
The Voice continues to welcome an opportunity to conduct a full interview with the candidate.