City developing complaints policy

by Sidney Cohen - September 15, 2018

Residents with a gripe related to municipal services or employees may soon be able to file official complaints with the city.

Niels Konge: Councillor happy complaints policy at city now in the work
Niels Konge: Councillor happy complaints policy at city now in the work

The municipal government is developing a policy to guide how administration handles complaints from the public, so that grievances against the city are addressed in a consistent and timely manner.

“The city delivers a lot of programs and services to a lot of people and we strive to always do our best,(and) sometimes we may not always hit the mark 100 per cent,” Sheila Bassi-Kellett, Yellowknife’s senior administrative officer, said during Monday’s meeting of the Governance and Priorities Committee (formerly called the Municipal Services Committee).

Bassi-Kellett said administration views the policy as “a constructive process,” that will help the city improve service delivery.

A draft of the policy, which went before city council on Monday, states that a member of the public must file his or her complaint within 30 days of the alleged event, and that if the incident warrants investigation, the city will endeavour to complete its investigation within 30 days of receiving the complaint.

Under the draft policy, a resident could fill out a formal complaint form with his or her name and contact information attached, or file an informal complaint via email, mail, phone or in person.

The policy does not cover complaints against members of council or complaints made internally by a city employee, the latter of which are dealt with under the city’s whistleblower policy.

Yellowknife does not have an ombudsperson whose sole responsibility is to deal with complaints against the city.

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The legislative assembly, however, is in talks about installing an ombudsperson at the GNWT.

Coun. Rebecca Alty suggested council ask for a future territorial ombudsperson to take over complaints that cannot be resolved by the municipality.

Coun. Niels Konge said it was “pretty exciting” to see a complaints policy on paper.

In an interview Monday afternoon, Konge said if the city had a complaints policy, the tangle of complaints that led to a bitter war of words with the mayor last year, and Konge’s public censure at city hall, would have been avoided.

Konge was reprimanded by his council colleagues in December for failing to treat city employees “in a courteous manner.”

Konge, who owns contracting company Konge Construction, has said he was censured, in part, for yelling at a building inspector with whom he had preexisting issues.

At the time, Konge said complaints against him were mishandled and filed his own complaint against Mayor Mark Heyck after Heyck got involved.

“As a contractor, as a developer, I was having challenges with a department in the City of Yellowknife, and there was nowhere to make a complaint,” Konge told Yellowknifer on Monday.

“Through that whole process, the city spending $40,000 investigating my conduct, that all could have been dealt with had there been a complaints policy.”

Allegations against MED posted on Sibbeston’s Facebook

The 2014 complaint of a former bylaw officer that was the focus of a recent inquiry into workplace misconduct at the city was posted on Saturday to the Facebook page of mayoral candidate Jerald Sibbeston.

Images of a document with the letterhead of McLennan Ross LLP, the city’s go-to law firm, which contains detailed allegations against Doug Gillard, the manager the Municipal Enforcement Division, were removed from Sibbeston’s campaign page by Monday.

The document was a report on a complaint made by former MED officer Shayne Pierson after he was fired in 2014.

Pierson’s name was redacted from the report posted online but Gillard’s was not. Yellowknifer obtained an unredacted copy of the same report last fall.

Sibbeston said the document was “leaked” onto his page by an “anonymous person.”

“I have no idea why it was put on my page, and refuse to speculate further. But if this goes back to 2014, what did my opponents know and when?” Sibbeston wrote on Facebook on Monday.

“I have no associations to the city beyond this race and find the leaks to be pretty vile. The city needs to be cleaned up and now the cat is out of the bag, I guess,” he added.

The city responded to the post on Sibbeston’s page with a statement on its own Facebook page.

In it, the city confirms that the complaint posted online was the subject of its recent inquiry.

“(The allegations) are also sensitive and shouldn’t have become public on Facebook. Further, the actions of the then members of council should not be questioned as the 2014 investigation into staff conduct was handled by administration, using external expertise,” reads the city’s Facebook statement.

The post goes on to say that the city is being targeted by people who are unhappy with the inquiry’s outcome.

The corporate culture at the city has changed since 2014, writes the city.

“City staff deserve fair and respectful treatment particularly around what is confidential and sensitive information.”