Yellowknife city hall’s day of reckoning

by Editorial Board - January 16, 2018

To date, Yellowknifer has spoken to 10 former municipal enforcement officers who say their workplace was a toxic environment under manager Doug Gillard.

A fully staffed MED department consists of eight officers – six constables and two corporals. It’s disturbing that in little less than 15 years, this number is exceeded by former staff who quit in disgust or despair or were pushed out.

These are well-paying jobs with generous benefits that ought to have kept people happily employed. But years after one would expect the bitter taste of a bad job experience to have subsided, multiple people are telling Yellowknifer terrible stories about their time with the city.

Obviously, accusations from former officers Kerry Nicholson, Jamie Fudge and Shayne Pierson that include their boss ogling women on closed circuit TV cameras, making sexual comments about female staff, and physically assaulting other officers by striking them in the groin, need further investigation.

Senior Administrative Officer Sheila Bassi-Kellett may think that “leopards can change their spots,” as she told Cabin Radio in response to the controversy, but that’s not going to fly with the public.

Fortunately, as a relative newcomer to city hall, Bassi-Kellett is in the best position to deal with this controversy.

The accusations date back to 2014 and earlier – long before she took over as the city’s top bureaucrat. While Bassi-Kellett can and must act in quelling the brewing scandal, she bears no personal responsibility for it.

Gillard, on the other hand, and those above him when these incidents allegedly took place — Dennis Marchiori, director of public safety, Dennis Kefalas, the previous senior administrative officer — need to give the public an account of what has happened if they have any hope of regaining credibility with the citizens of this city.

Gillard must address the allegations and the fact that so many of his former officers are speaking out against him. Marchiori, as his long-time supervisor, must respond to accusations that he did not take complaints about Gillard seriously. See Friday’s Yellowknifer for more details on that.

Kefalas, who is still in a high ranking role with the city as director of public works, must explain what really happened after initiating a third-party investigation into Pierson’s complaint about Gillard. And why did he tell Pierson his complaint was unfounded when it appears that it was not?

This sad situation is entirely fact-dependent and the facts need to be confirmed in the public interest. So far none of the men have spoken publicly. To keep their jobs, they ought to hold a press conference and assure the public they have learned from these issues and real change is being made at the city.

Mayor Mark Heyck has also been silent. The only press conference he has held lately was to accuse city councillor Niels Konge of bullying him.

He should be more worried about city staff being bullied and how these accusations reflect on the city.

For its part, city council needs to be asking hard questions. A whistle-blowing policy is fine, but staff have been blowing the whistle on their way out the door for years.

City councillor Adrian Bell says he plans to present a motion to council next week calling for a third-party investigation. That seems like as good a place to start as any.