Acting Kamloops CAO wants to move forward after 'unprecedented' suspension by mayor

'Unprecedented' suspension

The City of Kamloops' top official says he feels the mayor’s attempt to suspend him was unprecedented, but he is prepared to work with him moving forward.

“I'm open to a relationship with our mayor, [but] it's in the mayor's court to create that relationship,” Byron McCorkell, the city's acting CAO, told Castanet Kamloops.

Hamer-Jackson summarily suspended McCorkell last month, saying he had “a list” of reasons why he decided to take city hall's highest-ranking employee off the job.

Asked if he would reach out to McCorkell and if he wants to have a good working relationship with the acting CAO moving forward, Hamer-Jackson said he cannot reach out because of rules enacted at city hall following an external third-party investigation.

“I can’t reach out to him, they’ve got protective measures that I’m being forced to abide by,” Hamer-Jackson said. “How do you move forward with all of these measures put in place that are very abnormal and all because of false allegations and innuendos?”

That confidential investigative report — completed last spring — concluded Hamer-Jackson’s behaviour violated city council's code of conduct on numerous occasions with respect to three of the complainants.

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.

Castanet Kamloops can now confirm McCorkell was also one of those complainants. Honcharuk found Hamer-Jackson disrespected McCorkell during a conversation they had days after the civic election.

Multiple attempts to remove CAOs

Communication restrictions were put in place following Honcharuk's findings. The conditions, which are still in place, prohibit Hamer-Jackson from having one-on-one interactions with any of the complainants.

Honcharuk found Hamer-Jackson violated the code on eight occasions between November of 2022 and April of 2023 in 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.”

Hamer-Jackson has previously told Castanet these ground rules with CAO Trawin were not working well for him, creating difficulty in communicating with him. Trawin has said while communicating through an intermediary can be challenging, he largely hasn't experienced issues with the mayor since the measures have been in place.

The restricted communication with his CAO has only continued with McCorkell now in place as acting CAO with Trawin currently away on indefinite personal leave.

Hamer-Jackson told Radio NL his intention in suspending McCorkell was to then fire him — a move that came three weeks after McCorkell took on the top job. He was promoted from community and protective services director to deputy CAO last fall.

Suspension was 'unprecedented'

Hamer-Jackson has mostly cited two things when asked why he opted to suspend McCorkell — a lack of change regarding ongoing street issues and McCorkell's role in censoring a slideshow the mayor planned to show last month at a public chamber of commerce function.

“This action he took is unprecedented in my mind,” McCorkell said of the suspension. “There was no cause given other than he wanted change.”

McCorkell said he understands the mayor’s frustration with street issues, but feels that has been misdirected at him.

“I understand his frustrations," he said. "He's not getting where he thought he was going to get through an election process."

McCorkell said he cannot solve the issues of homelessness and social housing as they are the responsibility of the provincial and federal governments.

“The city has no direct programming involved in any of it,” McCorkell said. “The challenge we have is to try and translate that frustration towards those [governments] that are responsible.”

To that end, McCorkell said the city has developed relationships with social service providers, participated in outreach tables and tries to create housing opportunities.

“The solution, unfortunately, is not going to be instantaneous, there is no silver bullet,” McCorkell said.

Hamer-Jackson told Castanet he was tired of hearing from McCorkell that street disorder-related issues are the same everywhere.

But that's the truth, according to McCorkell.

“It is happening everywhere," he said. "There is a housing, social challenge happening in every single community in Canada."

McCorkell said the city needs to work with the province and other parties to find solutions.

“Suggesting that we're not doing everything we can locally is not accurate,” he said. “We're pulling on every lever we can pull on. The fact is, though the solutions are not easily seen, and they're not as quick as some would like.”

No choice but to censor

The slideshow photographs, which the mayor did not take himself, were of marginalized individuals in Kamloops. The concern from the city was that the images could violate criminal law, intimate images legislation or Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act regulations.

Hamer-Jackson said he did not intend to show any sexual acts, but also said he did not review the photos before forwarding them to the chamber.

“I wanted to show, you know, like I said, the good and the bad, but I didn't even get a chance to vet the pictures — I didn’t even get a chance,” he said.

McCorkell said his role is to protect the municipality “and to protect elected officials from doing something they think is right, that may not be right.”

He said staff acted on information from a chamber representative who said they received pictures for a PowerPoint presentation that they found offensive.

“We said, ‘Don’t show them,’” McCorkell said.

City staff had reached out to Hamer-Jackson weeks before the event offering to help him with his presentation, but the offer was refused.

“We could have vetted a PowerPoint, it could have been whatever it needed to be — that didn't happen, not my problem.” McCorkell said.

“My job is to make sure the corporation is protected and partner agencies are protected, so I stand behind the decision. Some didn't like it [but] at the end of the day I had no other ability to do anything but what I did.”

Walked out of first meeting

During his investigation, McCorkell told Honcharuk he believed Hamer-Jackson sees him as a “bureaucrat” standing in opposition to his business interests.

“He [Hamer-Jackson] would get rid of me in a heartbeat if he could,” McCorkell is quoted as saying in the report.

McCorkell told Honcharuk that Hamer-Jackson made it clear in his election campaign that he wanted to get rid of McCorkell.

The senior staffer also told Honcharuk he walked out of the first meeting he had with Hamer-Jackson due to the disrespect the mayor was showing him as they discussed homelessness in the city. McCorkell said it was the first time in 30 years he’s walked out of a meeting with a mayor.

Trawin, who was present for that meeting, told the investigator it occurred Nov. 7, 2022 and described Hamer-Jackson as bullying McCorkell by implying he was lying to him about issues respecting the homeless population around his business.

Trawin also noted that during the election campaign Hamer-Jackson had vocalized that McCorkell was on his “hit list” and in November 2022 had said he could terminate him.

McCorkell went on to tell Honcharuk he did not feel supported or secure working with mayor Hamer-Jackson.

McCorkell also told the investigator he makes “a pretty concerted effort never to be in a room” with the mayor given his lack of respect for him or his views.

Happy to be reinstated

McCorkell said the suspension was “the most extraordinary thing” he’s ever faced in his career, however his commitment to the city has “never wavered.”

The suspension was within the mayor’s power. It was also within the rest of city council’s power to have the final say, and McCorkell was quickly reinstated.

Councillors also released a statement backing McCorkell and saying he had their full confidence.

“This little situation was the making of one individual and council did what it did, which was extremely gratifying to myself to be recognized for the work that has been done,” McCorkell said.

Asked how and if he can work with the mayor moving forward, McCorkell said that is up to the mayor.

“My job is to work with whoever sits in the [council chamber] horseshoe. That doesn't mean I need to agree with everything they put forward,” McCorkell said.

He said his job is to simply action the will of a council majority "in a professional manner."

“I just look forward to moving forward,” he said.

McCorkell told Castanet he does not believe the mayor is open to having a positive relationship with him.

Hamer-Jackson said he is comfortable moving forward with McCorkell as acting CAO for now and will not move to suspend him again.

“At this point I’m going to move forward,” Hamer-Jackson said. “At another point I might, depending on what happens, how people react, what they do — is there going to be any more allegations against me?”

Further to the point of working together and moving forward, Hamer-Jackson told Castanet Kamloops in a text message it would “be a great start” if McCorkell would make a public statement retracting his allegations in the Honcharuk report and apologize.

Mayor questions sanction

Having now seen the details of McCorkell’s allegations in the report, Hamer-Jackson said he’s not sure the restrictive communication should be in place, and it is something he intends to look into.

“Because of the actions of him [McCorkell], David Trawin and another employee [the third complainant], I’ve been under a lot of media attention about me being a bully, the whole community has been affected,” Hamer-Jackson said.

“The communication between the mayor and deputy mayors, deputy CAO and CAO have been very disturbing. It [the Honcharuk report] cost the taxpayers a lot of money when specific people could have just gone to their own lawyer or to WorkSafeBC.”

Hamer-Jackson said his reputation has also been tarnished because of the Honcharuk report.

“How would you feel? Put yourself in that spot," he said.

Hamer-Jackson went on to say, “This isn’t over yet,” noting the various code of conduct complaints against him, adding those have also cost taxpayers’ money.

“Like, what are we, going to kiss and make up? People have to be held accountable for their actions,” Hamer-Jackson said.

“That's the problem with today's society — people aren't held accountable, and they just continue to do these things. …Why was this report not presented to me right after [its completion] just like it was presented to councillors? Why?”

The mayor did not participate in the investigation.

According to Honcharuk’s report, Hamer-Jackson was made aware of the complainants' identities and the general nature of their complaints ahead of agreeing to be interviewed.

Hamer-Jackson told Castanet Kamloops he wanted to know details about the allegations before committing 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.

Honcharuk found all the complainants credible and accepted their evidence.

Hamer-Jackson said he had not seen the confidential report detailing all the allegations against him — which he has been requesting — until a copy was mysteriously dropped off in his mailbox last week.

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