The city will launch an official inquiry into workplace misconduct in the Municipal Enforcement Division.
City council voted unanimously in favour of a motion Monday put forward by deputy mayor Adrian Bell. It calls for an independent third-party to examine allegations of physical and sexual misconduct and bullying at MED, as well as how those allegations were previously investigated.
The third-party investigator will report to council and senior administrative officer Sheila Bassi_Kellett.
Bell’s motion comes after media reports last week alleging MED manager Doug Gillard made sexual comments about women who worked for city, homophobic remarks to MED officers, hit officers in the groin and used the city’s closed-circuit camera system to look at women using city facilities.
In sworn statements made to lawyers and interviews with Yellowknifer, Gillard is alleged to have promoted a toxic and sexist workplace culture in the city’s bylaw department.
The allegations against MED management span about a decade, from the early 2000s to 2014. Gillard was manager throughout. The city says it has not received any formal complaint about MED since 2014.
Bell’s motion also directs Bassi-Kellett to ensure a positive workplace culture at the city by putting in place a “plan of action,” and incorporating any relevant findings from the official inquiry into that plan.
A number of councillors spoke Monday night of the many residents who have reached out to them since the allegations against Gillard were revealed in News/North, Yellowknifer and other media outlets.
“When this issue was first brought to council’s attention two weeks ago, it immediately struck me as the most serious I’ve encountered in my five years on council,” Bell said after reading his motion.
“The sheer volume of feedback I’ve received from all of you (Yellowknife residents) since I provided notice of this motion has confirmed that for me.”
City administration conducted a third-party investigation into misconduct and bullying by MED management in 2014, after a complaint was filed by former MED officer Shayne Pierson.
The city will not comment on the 2014 investigation, citing personnel privacy.
As the controversy emerged, Kerry Penney, director of policy, communications and economic development, said “appropriate follow-up action” was taken based on the investigator’s findings.
On Monday, Bell questioned the handling of the 2014 complaint.
“How we investigate these matters is almost as important as whether or not we investigate them,” he said.
‘Process must stand up to public scrutiny’
In order to preserve public confidence in city hall, Bell added, “our process must stand up to scrutiny.”
Coun. Shauna Morgan said residents she spoke with have “little to no appetite” for spending tax dollars on an inquiry into events that possibly took place between five and 20 years ago, and which involve people who may no longer work for the city and senior administrative officers who are no longer in their jobs.
All allegations made by other former officers occurred under Gillard’s watch.
Many took place while Dennis Marchiori was the director of Public Safety, and during Dennis Kefalas’s tenure as senior administrative officer.
Marchiori is still the director of public safety, and Kefalas continues to work in the upper-ranks of municipal government, as the director of Public Works and Engineering.
Morgan had strong words Monday for the public way in which allegations against Gillard have unfolded.
“Specific human resource issues should never be addressed through a court of public opinion,” she said.
“There’s a very real danger of these things turning into a public lynching or a witch trial of staff members.”
Many residents already harbour ire for MED, she said, “because no one likes getting parking tickets or speeding tickets or getting towed.”
Though she ultimately supported the motion, Morgan was reluctant to put up public money to fund the inquiry.
She said she wants the investigation to look into the systems that allowed for any misconduct to occur, and to recommend changes so that bad behaviour doesn’t happen again.
Support for inquiry
Coun. Julian Morse expressed his support for the inquiry, and pointed out that an investigation could potentially exonerate MED management.
“We need to put ourselves in a position where we do have public trust in our organization, and certainly that we have an MED division that we can be proud of and that citizens trust and respect,” he said.
Morse also raised residents’ concerns about the city shutting off its security cameras.
On Thursday, the city announced it was turning off security cameras at city facilities until it could implement a policy guiding their use.
Bassi-Kellett said Monday the cameras are used to deter bad behaviour and ensure staff safety.
“We know our cameras also reduce acts of vandalism and theft from city facilities,” she said.
Bassi-Kellett anticipates a camera policy will be in place in three to four weeks.
In the meantime, she said, the city is installing a “dedicated security presence” at the library, and staff will be doing more spontaneous walk-throughs in other city buildings.
“This was not an easy decision,” said Bassi-Kellett of deactivating the cameras.
“It was made looking at the best interests overall of residents to ensure this balance of transparency and safety.”