Councillor says new restrictions on Kamloops mayor an 'extraordinary step' to protect staff

'Extraordinary' steps taken

UPDATE: 2:36 p.m.

A Kamloops city councillor says measures put in place revoking Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s power to suspend certain municipal employees were taken in order to protect staff from mistreatment at the hands of the mayor.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly, who is acting as council spokesperson on the matter, told Castanet Kamloops the measures will remain in place for “however long we need to keep our employees safe and free from bullying and harassment.”

“Like all employers, the city has a legal duty to ensure a safe workplace for all employees, free of bullying and harassment — that’s full stop, there’s no question there,” O’Reilly said.

He noted there have been a couple of incidents in recent days that have caused concern.

“We’re very concerned about our staff," he said. "And the potential suspension measures, that we’ve removed the powers from the mayor, it was an extraordinary step to protect staff from mistreatment from the mayor."

Council called a special closed meeting at the end of March to address the mayor’s sudden suspension of acting CAO Byron McCorkell. Councillors voted 8-0 to reinstate McCorkell, reversing the mayor’s decision.

According to a document the mayor provided to Castanet Kamloops, council members approved a number of restrictions on the mayor in that same meeting.

These measures remove the mayor’s power to act on personnel matters — including suspension — as it relates to McCorkell, six other members of staff, and anyone who occupies the interim acting CAO role. Each month’s acting deputy mayor will assume the statutory suspension authority as it pertains to these employees in place of Hamer-Jackson.

O’Reilly said the mayor has been deemed to be in an “inherent conflict of interest” regarding certain protected staff members, and is unable to act because of this conflict.

“Council procedural bylaw states whenever the mayor is unable to act for any reason, the deputy mayor must act in his place,” O’Reilly said.

Media interviews in violation?

O’Reilly said it’s also important to note the mayor’s recent conduct, including in media interviews, might have violated laws governing conflict of interest and confidentiality obligations.

He noted the document outlining these restrictions was meant to be kept confidential and the mayor was “very well aware of that.”

Hamer-Jackson had told Castanet Kamloops the document outlining these suspension restrictions was handed to him by O’Reilly in an envelope that didn’t have a sticker marked private and confidential, like other documents he's sometimes handed.

“He received an email that was marked privileged and confidential. There's no mistake that this was to be kept confidential,” O’Reilly said.

O’Reilly noted the mayor has also distributed other records containing “extremely sensitive personal information” about staff.

Report distribution 'unlawful'

Last week, Hamer-Jackson distributed copies of an investigative report completed by independent firm Integrity Group to news reporters. The report contains details of an investigation into allegations of bullying and harassment made against the mayor by four city staff.

“This is unlawful,” O’Reilly said regarding the document’s distribution.

He said the mayor has exposed the city to “significant potential loss and damage” in the form of various lawsuits, including constructive dismissal, defamation and breach of privacy.

“The cost of defending against these potential lawsuits and the various legal claims, which together involve very substantial monetary liability — perhaps in the excess of $1 million —would ultimately be borne by the taxpayer,” he said, adding the city is doing everything it can to avoid this negative impact.

O’Reilly said he wouldn’t comment further on potential lawsuits. He also wouldn’t comment when asked if the city was undergoing any investigation to find out who initially leaked the report to a news reporter last year.

ORIGINAL: 4 a.m.

Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson is under new restrictions preventing him from suspending several City of Kamloops employees after he suddenly decided to suspend the city’s highest-ranking official last month.

Acting CAO Byron McCorkell was suspended by the mayor on March 26, but was quickly reinstated by the rest of council during a special closed meeting called to address the situation two days later. The decision was announced by council in a statement immediately following the meeting, which also affirmed councillors’ support for McCorkell.

Hamer-Jackson was not present during the March 28 special meeting, blaming a long weekend trip with his family.

A document provided to Castanet Kamloops by Hamer-Jackson indicates councillors approved a number of restrictions on the mayor during the closed meeting. The measures were not mentioned in the council statement released afterward.

The mayor said Coun. Mike O’Reilly delivered the document to him by hand, which advised him about these measures.

“I’m on the phone, just like I am right now, and get a knock on the door. So anyway, I go get the door, and Coun. O’Reilly’s down there, he hands me this envelope,” Hamer-Jackson said.

“So I just grab the envelope and close the door and I go back and continue. And that's the document that I received.”

Mayor 'unable to act'

The measures as laid out in the document remove the mayor’s power to act on personnel matters — including suspension — as it relates to McCorkell, six other members of staff including CAO David Trawin, and anyone who occupies the interim acting CAO role.

Castanet Kamloops is not identifying the other city staff members mentioned in the document.

The document said the mayor is “hereby deemed ‘unable to act’” on personnel matters pertaining to these employees. Each month’s acting deputy mayor will assume the statutory suspension authority in place of Hamer-Jackson as it relates to these employees, as per a section in the council procedure bylaw.

The section states councillors will serve on a rotating basis as a member responsible for acting in the place of the mayor when the mayor is absent or otherwise unable to act.

Castanet Kamloops asked Hamer-Jackson if he knows how long these measures will be in effect.

“You’re going to have to ask all the councillors about that, because they know all about it," he said. "I wasn’t in any closed meeting."

He maintains he had until this week — Tuesday afternoon, the next regular council meeting — to advise council of the details related to his decision to suspend the CAO.

“I still stick by what the Community Charter says until someone makes it different,” he said.

The document said council members concluded the measures, which took effect immediately, are necessary because, among other reasons, Hamer-Jackson has “engaged in conduct that can be reasonably interpreted as constituting a contravention of” rules governing conflict of interest, and privacy and confidentiality obligations as set out in the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Community Charter.

In a statement issued following McCorkell’s suspension, councillors said the mayor had appeared to have disclosed personal information about the acting CAO in breach of the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act.

The document said the measures are necessary "in order to provide further actual or potential loss or damage and any retaliation."

Hamer-Jackson said in the past he has refrained from discussing matters deemed "privileged and confidential" with reporters, but noted this document describing the measures came in a blank envelope, not one with a sticker indicating its contents was confidential.

Castanet Kamloops reached out to O’Reilly, deputy mayor for the month of March, regarding the document. An update on the matter is expected Tuesday afternoon.

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