Mixed reviews for ground rules put in place following Kamloops city hall investigation

Meddling at city hall?

Ground rules put in place behind the scenes at Kamloops city hall are receiving mixed reviews after a third-party investigator found Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson repeatedly used his office to threaten the job of the city’s CAO and attempted to influence other municipal hiring decisions.

In February of 2023, the City of Kamloops retained a lawyer from a Vancouver firm to conduct a third-party investigation after an incident in which staff overheard a loud argument between the mayor and a councillor at city hall.

An internal workplace investigation followed, and the city’s human resources director subsequently identified the need for an external third-party investigation.

The investigator, Terry Honcharuk of the Integrity Group, looked into allegations of “unlawful and/or inappropriate conduct” on the part of the mayor, made by four city employees — including city CAO David Trawin.

The confidential investigative report, which has been obtained by Castanet Kamloops, concluded Hamer-Jackson’s behaviour violated city council's code of conduct on a number of occasions.

Certain measures have since been put in place restricting how the mayor communicates with Trawin and a handful of other city staffers.

Mayor’s behaviour called ‘aggressive'

Honcharuk found Hamer-Jackson violated the code on eight occasions between November of 2022 and April of 2023 in relation to his interactions with Trawin. The report said the mayor was “offensive, demeaning, insulting or abusive” to Trawin, and displayed “aggressive action that was threatening to Mr. Trawin’s job security.”

The investigator also determined that Hamer-Jackson suggested having a city councillor’s son, who works in the city’s community services department, transferred to Kamloops Fire Rescue in an attempt to influence council votes.

Hamer-Jackson admittedly also attempted to have one of his supporters and campaign workers hired as co-CAO, another effort that is detailed in Honcharuk’s report.

The mayor did not participate in the investigation. In the report, Honcharuk said he “elected not to draw an adverse inference” against Hamer-Jackson for not taking part.

Hamer-Jackson told Castanet Kamloops he wanted to know details about the allegations before deciding whether to sit down with the investigator. Honcharuk wanted him to make an appointment first due to the sensitive and confidential nature of the allegations.

No appointment was set and no details were shared.

Hamer-Jackson, who said he still hasn’t seen the report, dismissed the information as “all allegations.”

“People continue to make these allegations, and guess what? Someday, they’re going to get proven wrong,” he said.

‘I’ll bury you'

The report includes an email sent by Trawin to Hamer-Jackson, councillors and the city’s human resources director detailing an alleged interaction he had with the mayor on Nov. 21, 2022 — a few weeks after Hamer-Jackson was inaugurated.

According the report, Trawin told Honcharuk he met with Hamer-Jackson after learning the mayor asked to have a letter containing confidential city information distributed publicly as a press release.

Trawin told the mayor that he could be reprimanded if he shared confidential information — a warning the mayor didn’t take well, according to the CAO’s statement to Honcharuk.

In the report, Trawin recalled the mayor getting “red in the face,” repeatedly asking if the CAO was threatening him, and telling him, “If I want, I can fire you.” Trawin countered by saying a two-thirds majority council vote was needed for such action to take place.

“Mr. Trawin said that the mayor then threatened to release documents that the mayor said would show Mr. Trawin was not doing his job,” the investigator wrote in his report.

“The mayor then said, ‘I have more friends in this town than you do, so you know where that goes,’ and added, ‘I’ll bury you.’ Mr. Trawin took all this as a threat to his job.”

In his report, Honcharuk said he found a similar meeting occurred in late January 2023, where Hamer-Jackson brought Trawin into the mayor's office, asked the CAO if he was trying to “get rid of him,” and stood over him saying, “‘I can suspend you, then have a show cause hearing to get rid of you.’”

After that meeting, Trawin sent an email detailing the events to council and the city’s human resources director. The email was included as part of the investigative report.

“Over the last two weeks you have mentioned to me that you have read the community charter and made innuendos that you have the power to fire me,” Trawin wrote, adding he ultimately feels this is a threat.

“I consider all this bullying and harassment and push to get rid of employment with the City of Kamloops. I expect this to stop.”

Mayor denies allegations

Hamer-Jackson has denied multiple times he ever said "I’ll bury you" to Trawin when asked by Castanet Kamloops.

“The mayor of Kamloops says he has never told anyone that he will bury them,” he said.

When asked to respond to allegations that he threatened Trawin’s job security, Hamer-Jackson claimed Trawin agreed to “retract” those allegations but never did.

Trawin told Castanet Kamloops he stands by what he told the investigator, noting Hamer-Jackson was in an agitated mood and might have forgotten what he said on that day.

He said he did send written communications to Hamer-Jackson in the spring of last year attempting to smooth things over, but he was referring to another incident — not the November one outlined in the report.

“There’s times when I had said that I didn’t believe he wanted to fire me, but yes, there are times that I believe he did,” Trawin said.

“I’ve said my piece and said my truth to what I feel and cooperated in the investigation. I feel quite comfortable that from what I said, I can lay my head down at night."

Trawin did not initiate probe

Trawin said he didn’t initiate the Integrity Group investigation, nor has he filed any code of conduct complaints or gone to the press. He said he was informed there was an investigation underway and felt he had a duty to cooperate.

“Has my cooperation caused my work to be more difficult? Yes it has. Has it diminished my relationship with the mayor? Yes it has. Has it affected my health — both physical and mental health? Yes it has,” Trawin said.

“Have I received threatening phone calls by supporters of the mayor — I’m not saying the mayor put them up to it or anything — yes, I have. Daytime, nighttime, threatening to my family. Have I felt some of my privacy has been breached with things? Yes, it has. Do I see other people who have been involved, in my opinion, [with] bullying and harassment within the organization afraid to come forward because of what they've seen happened to me? Yes, I do.”

But Trawin said he stands by his decision to participate in the investigation.

“Do I feel it was the right thing to do and that it needed to be done, especially as a leader of the organization? Yes, I do,” he said.

Attempted to hire supporter

As detailed in the report, Trawin’s email also noted Hamer-Jackson had asked him to find money to hire Deb Newby, a woman who helped the mayor with his election campaign in 2022.

The mayor suggested Newby could work part-time as deputy CAO and part time for the mayor.

“Given the context and circumstances of the mayor’s proposal, I find that the mayor’s motivation to have Ms. Newby hired was not based on assisting Mr. Trawin to carry out his duties but instead to have one of his political allies hold a position of influence/power,” Honcharuk wrote in his report.

Castanet Kamloops found in March last year that when this proposal fell flat, the mayor attempted to have Newby hired for the role of executive assistant to mayor and council. Another individual was selected for the role instead.

Nathalie Baker, a Vancouver-based lawyer focusing on municipal and administrative law, said elected officials aren’t generally prohibited from being involved in a hiring process, but they must be mindful that they don’t participate in matters in which they have a conflict of interest — particularly matters in which they could have a direct or indirect financial stake.

She added council members also can’t use their position to influence city staff members to make certain decisions if there’s a direct or indirect financial interest in the matter.

“I don't think there's necessarily a problem with advocating for someone that you think is the best candidate for the job,” Baker said.

"Where the line gets blurred is where there is some sort of personal relationship, or whether it's some sort of pecuniary interest, but where there's some sort of some other conflict there that is influencing the official decision to put that candidate forward."

She said unless it’s crossing the line where there’s a pecuniary interest, it’s sometimes “just a question of does it pass the smell test?”

“You might not have a basis for necessarily challenging it in court, but if stories like this get out, it might be something that when you're trying to run for election next time, it's one of those things people might remember.”

Wanted to transfer councillor's son?

The Integrity Group report also details an attempt by the mayor to interfere with the employment of the son of a city councillor, who Castanet Kamloops is not identifying.

According to the investigative report, Trawin said he received a text message from a city councillor on Nov. 20, 2022, advising him that Hamer-Jackson suggested getting the councillor's son, who works as a community services officer, to transfer to the fire department.

“The mayor believed that [the councillor] was otherwise in a conflict of interest when voting on restructuring issues involving CSOs,” the report said.

“Mr. Trawin said that the mayor raised the same issue with him — ie. transferring [the councillor’s] son to Kamloops Fire Rescue — on Monday, Nov. 21, and that Mr. Trawin said that he advised the mayor that a process has to be followed in that regard.”

The councillor’s son was not one of the complainants listed in the Integrity Group's investigative report.

Mayor doesn’t like restrictions

In the report, the investigator concludes Hamer-Jackson “has a significant animus” toward Trawin, as well as another senior staff member who was one of the four employees named in the report.

“With respect to Trawin, this has manifested in a pattern of yelling, disparaging remarks, disrespectful conduct and even threats to Mr. Trawin’s job security,” the report said.

As a consequence of the investigation, Hamer-Jackson is not allowed to meet with Trawin and a few other staff members without a third party present, and any emails the mayor sends to these individuals must first be vetted by a designated councillor liaison, which has been the deputy mayor assigned for the month.

Hamer-Jackson said he has had a difficult time communicating through the new process put in place.

“It’s not working very good at all,” he said.

He said he’s asked certain questions of the deputy mayors since the process has been implemented and still doesn’t have answers.

“We've got a lawyer in Vancouver that's basically made the City of Kamloops, of 100,000 people, make the mayor who was elected by the citizens of Kamloops have to respond and have to communicate with the person that is supposed to be your number one employee — he's supposed to be your only employee,” Hamer-Jackson said.

“And that's working good for him? Well, that's because, guess what? He didn't want me to be the mayor, obviously.”

Trawin wants to work with mayor

Trawin said generally, since the restrictions have been put in place, he hasn’t experienced other issues with the exception of Hamer-Jackson using the written communication from last spring to try to “dismiss” what happened before the restrictions were put in place.

He said he feels it’s important to talk one on one with a person about problems or possible misunderstandings — something he acknowledges can be difficult when communicating through an intermediary.

“My goal is still to work with council and the mayor,” Trawin said, adding it’s his job to undertake the will of council.

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