Councillor pitches special inquiry page for public

by Sidney Cohen - February 6, 2018

A city councillor wants the city to dedicate a page on its website to the inquiry into misconduct at the Municipal Enforcement Division.

Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo
City councillors discussed transparency on Monday ahead of the upcoming inquiry into misconduct at the Municipal Enforcement Division. Coun. Adrian Bell will make a motion at next week’s city council meeting to create a page on the city’s website dedicated to the inquiry’s progress.

“This is an item that warrants a little more contact, a little more communication with the public than some others might,” Coun. Adrian Bell said at Monday’s meeting of the municipal services committee.

A special webpage, he said, would “send a message that we value transparency.”

The page would contain updates, copies of public meeting minutes and a public version of the investigator’s final report, said Bell. He will ask council to vote on the webpage proposal at next week’s council meeting.

Council voted on Jan. 22 to launch an independent inquiry into misconduct at MED after allegations were published in Yellowknifer that MED manager Doug Gillard fostered a sexist and toxic workplace culture in the bylaw enforcement division.

Bell’s webpage proposal comes after it was revealed Monday that the mayor, city councillors and the senior administrative officer sat down with legal counsel in a private meeting on Jan. 30 to discuss the upcoming MED inquiry.

There was no public notice of the meeting. The CBC reported that it learned of the session during a call with Bell.

Typically, when councillors have a private matter to discuss, they vote on a motion to go in camera during a scheduled council meeting.

In an interview Tuesday, the senior administrative officer said it’s not unheard of for the mayor and council to gather outside of regular meetings for the purposes of sharing information. She said such sessions took place two or three times last year.

Sheila Bassi-Kellett said Monday that the Jan. 30 gathering “was an opportunity for council and the SAO (senior administrative officer) to seek legal advice on the scope and process for an official inquiry.”

She said the meeting was not meant to “advance a topic,” or “have any directions or decisions made.”

But a 1998 NWT Supreme Court case, brought by the Yellowknife Property Owners Association, questioned whether off-the-books meetings of council are permitted.

The case was over council’s use of “briefing meetings” – private sessions in which councillors were given “information on civic affairs,” had the chance to discuss civic matters, could give administration direction, and which “provided council the opportunity to discuss confidential items without being required … to pass a resolution permitting an in-camera meeting.”

The judge determined that these “wide-ranging” closed-door sessions should have been held in public.

Steven Cooper, a partner at Yellowknife-based law firm Cooper Regal and lead counsel in the 1998 case, said when the mayor and council gather to discuss matters that are “within their jurisdiction to discuss as elected representatives,” it could constitute a meeting, and meetings should take place in public.

Not like get-together over beer: lawyer

“If they all get together over a beer … and they’re talking about the Grammy Awards, that’s one thing,” Cooper said on Monday.

“But when they’re talking about city business, at city hall, with city representatives, including outside advisers – in this case lawyers – they’re breaking the rules.”

If council wishes to discuss “any substantive issues” out of public viewing, said Cooper, they should follow protocol and hold a public vote on a motion to go in camera.

Bassi-Kellett said some discussion during an in-camera session on Monday arose from the Jan. 30 meeting.

She would not say whether or not the Jan. 30 meeting was recorded.

Bell also suggested Monday that council hold special weekly meetings to hear updates on the inquiry’s progress.

Council already meets almost every week.

Couns. Julian Morse and Shauna Morgan said additional weekly meetings are unnecessary.

“While I appreciate the intention of the proposal, I think that we can achieve this within the structure that we’ve already got,” said Morse.

Morgan said she wants transparency, but that she doesn’t want the inquiry to “snowball into something that consumes so much of our time, and so much of administration’s time, that it overshadows all of the other important work that the city is doing.”

Morgan said she doesn’t believe the inquiry warrants a special webpage.

In comments aimed at the press, Coun. Niels Konge said while journalists want to be fully briefed on the inquiry’s progress, “some of this is none of your damn business.”

“If I have something that I think that the public needs to know on this, and has the right to know, I will tell them,” he said.

“In the meantime, they can go about finding something else to write about.”

Status quo for MED manager

Doug Gillard’s employment status has not changed since city council voted to launch an inquiry into misconduct allegations under his leadership at the Municipal Enforcement Division.

City spokesperson Richard McIntosh confirmed Tuesday that Doug Gillard is at work as the city’s manager of MED.

Gillard is alleged to have fostered a sexist and toxic workplace culture at MED.

Over a period spanning the early 2000s to 2014, Gillard is alleged to have made lewd and homophobic remarks about city staff, hit officers in the groin, and used city security cameras to view women.

In response to residents’ concerns sparked by these allegations, Sheila Bassi-Kellett, the city’s senior administrative officer, wrote a column that appeared in last Wednesday’s Yellowknifer.

In it, she stated that “positive behaviour starts at the top.”

She wrote that as SAO, she has taken a steps to create a “safe, productive and respectful work environment that is free from mistreatment and harassment” at the city.

Bassi-Kellett was not available for an interview Tuesday but McIntosh stated in an email that the city now has an anti-harassment policy, a new whistleblower policy, and a feedback form staff can fill out that goes directly to the SAO.

Bassi-Kellett also holds monthly, all-staff meetings and has created gender-balanced leadership at the city.