Hundreds of leaked emails from city hall reveal a deteriorating relationship between the city’s top bureaucrat and city council in 2014.
Yellowknifer received more than 700 emails earlier this week belonging to former senior administrative officer Dennis Kefalas. The emails’ dates range from Feb. 3 to Oct. 31, 2014 and contain correspondences with numerous parties including city staff, councillors and members of the public.
Many are benign, referring to day-to-day city operations, staff issues and dealings with city residents. Some, however, point to what Kefalas called a “poisoned environment” between administration and at least half of city council.
The emails claim councillors showed “disrespect” toward senior management at city hall following a series of contentious issues in 2014. Those issues included tax increases for Kam Lake property owners, a call for a review of municipal enforcement and the city’s attempt to prevent a Yellowknife artist from selling T-shirts depicting the Wildcat Cafe.
Kefalas left the job in October 2016 but remains with the city as director of public works – the position he held prior to taking the senior role. He was replaced earlier this year by Sheila Bassi-Kellett.
Mayor Mark Heyck insisted at the time of his departure that Kefalas was not leaving the senior administrative officer job because of any underlying friction at city hall, but these emails show there was plenty of it in the fall of 2014 – less than two years into the job.
Council behaviour raised
On Oct. 23, 2014, Kefalas sent a five-page memo to Heyck under the heading “Council Behaviour.” In it, Kefalas complains bitterly about several councillors. Four of them are named: Couns. Rebecca Alty, Adrian Bell, Linda Bussey and Niels Konge. All of them are still on council.
The memo asks the mayor to seek advice from the city’s legal representatives on how to proceed with his complaint.
“It’s hard for administration to understand how some of the councillors can make comments on operations when they never took the time to understand what the different departments do and what their responsibilities are,” wrote Kefalas.
“My biggest concern is being ignored when asking council to provide direction as opposed to dealing with each councillor’s whim.”
Kefalas writes of his attempt to build a “team atmosphere among council and administration” after becoming senior administrative officer following the 2012 municipal election that culminated in the firing of his predecessor Bob Long. The relationship, however, went “downhill” after that.
Other emails show Kefalas sought legal advice from two different lawyers after becoming alarmed that some councillors were meeting with government officials outside of city administration in an attempt to work out a solution to a large and unexpected property tax increase affecting property owners in Kam Lake.
“Some issues have come up with the current council that give me pause that they are not performing their duties as required and essentially trying to do the work of administration by approaching staff at the GNWT level regarding issues before council,” states an email to a lawyer.
It goes on to state four councillors were effectively taking part in a constructive dismissal of city administration by cheering against it and inferring it was lying and clueless.
Kefalas wanted to know if these councillors’ actions opened the city up to litigation.
Another email asked if the municipality could sue council in the event that council didn’t accept its legal opinion and the city was sued as a result.
The city issued a news release Thursday afternoon confirming emails from 2014 were taken from the city’s document management system by an employee who left the municipality in 2016. The city was made aware of the breach in March.
Neither Heyck nor Kefalas wanted to comment when Yellowknifer contacted city hall Thursday.
Possible police investigation
Bassi-Kellett said yesterday she has no idea who leaked the e-mails to the media.
“I have actually done some discussions in terms of the difference between leaks and hacking,” Bassi-Kellett said. “Hacking is of course is somethings where we’re going to have RCMP in right away. They have a very strong role to play in this. Right now we’re exploring what our legal options are at this time.”
Bassi-Kellett declined to say whether there is a police investigation underway into the leaks.
Coun. Bussey said she has been informed of the data breach, but knew nothing about what was in the emails, including Kefalas’ memo to the mayor about council behaviour.
“It makes me sad,” she said. “People need to learn to communicate and trust more. We both (administration and council) have jobs to do and we should have respect for each other. I am not going to take any action. I don’t have time for this.”
Konge said council has been told the city will be beefing up security for emails.
“I don’t understand how all this IT stuff works at all,” said Konge.
“I’m going to assume that when I’m elected to council, when emails go through cyberspace, that somebody is going to read them. I’m not saying that any of the people at city hall are reading my emails. But I don’t know enough about how it works. I don’t write anything on them that I would be afraid of becoming public.”
— with files from John McFadden