Kamloops councillor says bullying resolution came forward after multiple staff complaints against one council member

'Misconduct' spurs motion

A Kamloops councillor says a resolution asking the province for new safeguards against bullying and harassment was put forward after “several instances” in which city staff have alleged mistreatment at the hands of a council member.

The Kamloops-sponsored resolution received support from elected officials representing dozens of municipalities during this week’s Southern Interior Local Government Association conference. It is headed to the Union of B.C. Municipalities for further debate in the fall.

“I think our colleagues in this room understood that while we have issues right now, and challenges in the City of Kamloops, it could very easily be any other village or town or city throughout B.C.,” said Coun. Mike O’Reilly.

“That was acknowledged by a near-unanimous vote.”

The resolution recommends UBCM ask the province to make changes to the Workers Compensation Act, including local elected officials in the act’s definition of a worker. This would mean existing WorkSafeBC policies and safeguards around bullying and harassment would be applicable to elected officials — which is not presently the case.

The resolution further recommends the B.C. government adopt new provisions, including those resulting in “suspension or disqualification from participation in elected office,” in order to safeguard staff, council or board members from misconduct.

‘Several instances’ of bullying

O’Reilly said the resolution was initially debated and discussed during an in-camera meeting on Feb. 6 by Kamloops council. He said it came forward as a number of WorkSafeBC claims or complaints have been made by staff alleging they were bullied and harassed by one council member.

“There have been several instances in which various staff have brought forward allegations of bullying and harassment and/or retaliation by this member of council — either directed at themselves or another staff,” O’Reilly said.

“There have also been instances in which staff have advised they are not prepared to formally pursue bullying and harassment complaints against a member of council because they fear the member will retaliate against them, and they see that neither administration nor council can protect them from this elected officials’ misconduct.”

O’Reilly said there have been times where a council member appeared to have been singling out and targeting staff for mistreatment, and other members of council have also felt they have been mistreated by this individual.

He said the municipal corporation is unable to prevent this type of behaviour because of limits to legislation, and this individual’s “flagrant disregard for legal restrictions and obligations.”

“The municipal corporation has potential financial exposure in excess of $1 million which is very significant for the misconduct of one elected official, including more than one potential claim for constructive dismissal and wrongful termination,” O’Reilly said.

The city councillor did not comment on the number of staff members who have come forward with complaints, or when these complaints were made.

O’Reilly also did not name the individual who was at the centre of these allegations.

However, a number of measures have been put in place restricting Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson’s interactions with certain staff members.

He is unable to directly communicate with some city staff as the result of an investigative report from last year which concluded the mayor violated council’s code of conduct multiple times by disrespecting or demeaning three individuals, including CAO David Trawin and Deputy CAO Byron McCorkell. The mayor has dismissed the contents of the report, saying the allegations are false and containing innuendo.

The mayor’s power to suspend certain staff members has also been revoked after he suddenly decided to suspend the city’s acting CAO — a decision quickly reversed by the rest of council.

City staff won’t confirm whether recent changes to council members’ key fob access at city hall were made due to these events, but elected officials are now unable to enter certain employee areas in order to ensure a safe work environment for staff.

Mayor in favour of resolution

For his part, Hamer-Jackson said he thinks it’s “great” the resolution passed.

“It’s going to be for everybody, it’s not going to be specific to one,” he said.

He maintained he hasn’t had any bullying and harassment complaints against him filed with the union or WorkSafeBC.

“There’s some allegations — but that's specific to, you know, individuals that are very senior management, and CAOs and deputy CAOs, but again, I have not had one against myself with the union, or I've never done one with WorkSafeBC," Hamer-Jackson said.

He said there’s “great people” at city hall, and claims employees liked it when he visited them at work before the decision was made to restrict elected officials from staff areas at municipal facilities.

“I go to Civic Ops and talk to the people, the regular people, people that I've known a lot for my whole life,” he said.

‘Timing is everything’

O’Reilly said the proposed Workers Compensation Act changes are “incredibly key.”

“I think it is decades past the time for elected officials to be included in WorkSafeBC,” O’Reilly said.

When asked if he thinks the B.C. government will have appetite to implement the proposed safeguards, O’Reilly said the province is aware of the challenges and concerns at the City of Kamloops.

“Timing is everything in politics. And I think the time is now for this to happen,” he said.

“We’ve also seen through current provincial government that they have reached into municipal matters deeper than any other government in a very long time — and so we are hopeful that they will take this seriously.”

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