Bylaw inquiry a test council must pass

by Editorial Board - February 8, 2018

The day before Yellowknifer published a guest column by the city’s senior bureaucrat to “reassure residents” in the aftermath of shocking allegations of misconduct by the head of the bylaw department, council was holding a secret meeting.

The Jan. 31 column by Sheila Bassi-Kellett states, “the city has to be open and transparent so that Yellowknifers know exactly what we are working towards.”

While Yellowknifer believes Bassi-Kellett when she states, “positive behaviour starts at the top,” the fact of the matter is, she, along with council, had just finished discussing one of most serious crises of confidence to ever hit the city, and they were doing it behind closed doors without any public record of it.

Doug Gillard, the manager of municipal enforcement, has been accused by several of his own former officers of making sexual comments about women who worked for city and homophobic remarks in the presence of officers, hitting officers in the groin and spitting on their sunglasses and most troubling to the public-at-large — using the city’s closed-circuit camera system to look at women frequenting city facilities.

The accusations have not been proven in court.

Also at issue is the city’s handling of a complaint made against Gillard by a former officer in 2014 and whether the outcome of the investigation into it – an apparent reprimand – was appropriate.

A third-party investigator is expected to be hired to conduct an investigation into these matters — brought to light after sworn statements from former officers were revealed to council and Yellowknifer last month.

The Jan. 30 meeting led to some comparisons to the bad old days in 1998 when the Yellowknife Property Owners Association took the city to court over council’s practice at the time of holding “wide-ranging,” closed-door information sessions where policies and strategies were born and marching orders handed to administration.

There is no evidence this was going on in this particular meeting but the timing is unfortunate. As Steven Cooper, the lawyer who represented the property association during its case with the city suggested in Yellowknifer‘s pages on Wednesday, council could have spared itself some grief had it just called the meeting and moved to hold it in-camera.

Councillors are allowed to talk about sensitive matters behind closed doors. They’re just not allowed to make any decisions there and they must notify the public when they are meeting in private.

Some councillors appeared to have realized they had stepped in it and are now calling for greater transparency measures in dealing with the mess at bylaw.

Coun. Adrian Bell says he will introduce a motion calling for a special webpage to be set up on the city’s website that will contain updates, copies of public meeting minutes and a public version of the investigator’s final report.

We can appreciate Coun. Bell’s desire to reassure citizens, who are surely horrified by the allegations, but as far as the public is concerned, the most important thing is to ensure a proper investigation takes place and concrete steps are taken to correct any problems the investigation identifies. This is the part that must absolutely be communicated to the public.

As to Coun. Niels Konge’s bizarre rant directed at media coverage of this matter, suggesting the press should go “find something else to write about,” is he kidding or what?