Yellowknife city councillors voted unanimously on Monday evening to move ahead with an independent inquiry into allegations of workplace misconduct.
Their decision followed a week of revelations regarding accusations against Doug Gillard, the manager of municipal enforcement.
Alleged incidents spanning several years up to 2014 emerged from stolen City emails, leaked legal recordings, and a series of interviews published by CBC and Northern News Services. Gillard is said to have used security cameras to watch women, bullied junior employees, and made inappropriate comments about female colleagues.
No such allegations have been proven in court. Last week the City’s most senior employee, Sheila Bassi-Kellett, defended Gillard’s continued employment on the grounds that his behaviour had since changed.
On Monday, Cllr Adrian Bell called for an independent investigator to probe the claims.
Bell’s motion asked that council “pursue an official inquiry, conducted by an independent third party, into the allegations of workplace misconduct within the Municipal Enforcement Division that have been brought to council’s attention, as well as how those allegations were investigated, and other details surrounding those events.”
Setting out the motion to fellow councillors, Bell noted an internal workplace investigation into some complaints against Gillard had already taken place in 2014. However, he said he had “questions about how it was handled, questions about other serious allegations related to the investigation, and questions about why council was not made aware of issues that it perhaps should have been made aware of.”
An obscure City bylaw relating to employment of the senior administrative officer, Bylaw 3580, appears to offer councillors the power to compel such an independent inquiry.
Three councillors used the word ‘extraordinary’ to describe such a course of action in their public comments on Monday, but all defended Bell’s suggestion.
“I believe strongly that we must take action to ensure we have systems and safeguards in place to protect both the public and City staff, which includes a workplace culture that is not a boys’ club and dos not tolerate harassment, abuse of power or inappropriate behaviour,” said Cllr Shauna Morgan.
Morgan added that “specific human resource issues should never be addressed through a court of public opinion [as] there’s a very real danger of these things turning into a public lynching or a witch trial of staff members, especially when we’re dealing with a department that lots of people don’t like – because no-one likes getting parking tickets or speeding tickets, or getting towed.
“It does seem like there are a few who would like to bring an entire department to its knees, but we don’t have time for that,” she continued, before conceding that an independent inquiry was the right action to take as long as its focus was carefully defined.
“In Canada you are innocent until proven guilty,” stated Cllr Niels Konge in his remarks. “At this time, I have not seen anything that has 100 percent said that these things have happened or have not happened.” He wants an investigation to establish the truth behind the various published claims.
Cllr Julian Morse said an investigation was “necessary for us to maintain or restore public trust in our organization,” an opinion Cllr Steve Payne endorsed, adding he hoped an inquiry would allow the City to “move on” and offer closure to all parties involved.
Cllr Linda Bussey urged that any inquiry be conducted in such a manner that City staff “feel confident” in the process, while Cllr Rommel Silverio said the situation had given him “sleepless nights.”
City emails from 2014 provided to media show the former employee whose concerns brought about an internal investigation into Gillard felt deeply dissatisfied with the process.
Writing to then-senior administrative officer Dennis Kefalas, former bylaw officer Shayne Pierson questioned the length of time taken to conduct proceedings and complained several times about a lack of communication from the City regarding the investigation.
No timeline for a new inquiry has yet been established.