Hampstead council voted 6 to 1, with Mayor William Steinberg exceptionally casting a vote, to "cancel the tennis courts rental agreement between the Town of Hampstead and 1 Tennis Inc."
Councillor Leon Elfassy cast the dissenting vote. The Suburban has attempted to call tennis pro Guillermo Jorquera, named during the meeting, for comment, but phone numbers we tried have either led to a fax machine or a "this call cannot be completed" message. We invite him to contact us at email@example.com.
Mayor William Steinberg told The Suburban exact details of why the lease was cancelled cannot be revealed under confidentiality rules. But some details were revealed during the April 1 meeting.
As reflected in a posting on Facebook by Councillor Jack Edery and questions by a resident, Jorquera was "wildly popular" with residents he taught. But in a statement read by town Director-General Richard Sun, Hampstead "received a formal complaint for psychological harassment from a member of the Community Services and Recreation department."
1 Tennis Inc., a private company not connected with the town, had received a lease to rent the Hampstead Park tennis court spaces from the town.
Sun added that the complaint was handled confidentially and an independent investigator from the firm Relais Expert-Conseil was asked to look into the matter.
"After months of exhaustive study, a detailed report was produced by the company... it concluded that psychological harassment had indeed been committed towards the complainant and other members of the department."
Sun said the town, as are all municipalities, is legally bound to provide a "safe and harassment-free work environment to all of its employees. The law also requires that the town adopt measures to end the source of all harassment and prevent any future vexatious situations."
The D-G acknowledged that residents wanted the town to allow the lease to continue, citing the quality of the tennis lessons.
"All such interventions were taken into consideration. That said, the findings of the investigator were well documented and the report was explained to council."
Elfassy, a tennis enthusiast and the councillor in charge of the tennis portfolio, said he was voting against terminating the lease.
"I am not ignoring or undermining the employees who complained, I will always support any investigation of harassment or complaint by any employee. I've seen myself the challenges of organizing and managing those courts, especially with COVID and the 2020 season.... I was aware of the issue between the [employees] and the pros. This was going on for a long time. I was even a witness from a distance to a couple of these interactions. I wanted to be as far as possible from the scene. Things got worse during the COVID season. Tensions were getting increasingly high."
Elfassy said he had hoped a meeting last June would clear the air, but it did not.
"I think, to terminate the contract of Guillermo Jorquera is too drastic a move because there were other possible ways of dealing with the problem. We all agree, in some heated moments, sometimes we say things and we regret them. To terminate this contract doesn't sit well with me. He didn't get a fair shot to defend himself."
Edery, who declined to comment during the council meeting, did so on the Facebook page Hampstead Community Dialogue, where he referred to the tennis pro as the "most popular guy in Hampstead.
"Bottom line, you have to do the right thing, not the popular thing," Edery added. "I am proud of my council — the Mayor included — which voted six to one to terminate the contract and protect the integrity of our staff."