Nanaimo's mayor calls for full investigation after leak of letter slamming councillors

By Dominic Abassi
November 22, 2016 - 1:59pm Updated: November 23, 2016 - 1:22pm

NANAIMO — Nanaimo's mayor and chief administrative officer (CAO) are both expressing disappointment after a confidential document containing explosive statements about councillors somehow ended up in the hands of a member of the public.

Tim Mcgrath, a vocal opponent of the mayor, says he found the document on the windshield of his car a couple of weeks ago. It was a letter from mayor Bill McKay addressed to Heather MacKenzie, founder of The Integrity Group, and copied to then city manager Ted Swabey. The March 2015 letter, containing highly critical statements about several councillors, was presented to council by Mcgrath Monday night. It was also posted on several Facebook pages and emailed to the media.

"First off, I want a complete and full investigation by the city of Nanaimo to determine why this information was released to a member of the public," said McKay in conversation with NanaimoNewsNOW Tuesday morning. "I intend to file a complaint with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner with respect to negligence on the part of the city of Nanaimo to protect a confidential document in their care and custody."

McKay says in his estimation, only four people at the city had access to the document. He says that includes himself, CAO Tracy Samra, the head of the freedom of information (FOI) department and an FOI clerk. McKay says he will not speculate as to who may have released it, saying there needs to be a complete investigation on that matter.

"I'm absolutely shocked and appalled that such a document would find its way into a member of the public's hands," said McKay.

There have been several FOI requests filed for this information in the past, McKay confirms. He says he was advised by the clerk that the information would not be released.

McKay says he initiated a contract with The Integrity Group in the spring of 2015 following a complaint made by Swabey about the bullying and harassment of himself and other senior staff by council. He says it was his hope that he could bring in a facilitator to help fix the relationships. According to their website, The Integrity Group is a consulting firm of lawyers specializing in the prevention and resolution of workplace conflict such as sexual and other harassment and discrimination, bullying, and other workplace misconduct including violence.

"I was asked by the facilitator, Ms. MacKenzie, to provide her with a snapshot through my eyes of members of council and their inter-personal relationships," said McKay.

McKay says he was asked to provide the information because he was the one that initiated the work with the facilitator. He says it never crossed his mind that his colleagues would ever read what he wrote, noting that all of the information provided to MacKenzie by himself and other councillors was supposed to be confidential. Anything stated was his opinion only and there's no way it would influence the outcome arrived at by a skilled facilitator, says McKay.

"The fact is, every piece of information that was exchanged is through the lens of the individual that is providing it. So the same thing could be said of all of the evidence that was provided by every single member of council."

The letter details McKay's personal opinions of each councillor. Some of the statements are highly critical, calling into question some councillor's competency, preparation for meetings and ability to work in a team environment. There are also references made to sensitive, private and personal information.

Samra says she had access to the document, along with administrative assistants, but doesn't know if it was sent any further than that.

“I have no way of tracking if it got forwarded to senior management. Did it get forwarded to legal counsel? Did it get forwarded to other entities? I don't have that information in front of me,” she said.

Samra says she was made aware of the email several months ago and doesn't know who leaked it. She says she's doing her best to limit the amount of non-compliance and is constantly reminding council and staff of the consequences of breaching confidentiality.

“I'm taking steps with our freedom of information staff to prepare the letters and notifications to direct these different pages to take them (copies of the letter) down,” Samra said.

Samra indicates that it's her belief that a full investigation from B.C.'s Information and Privacy Commissioner will take place.

Samra says she found the contents of McKay's letter "quite shocking".

Multiple councillors took McKay to task over the statements in the letter during Monday night's meeting. Councillors Jim Kipp and Gord Fuller both referenced taking the contents to lawyers to discuss any possible recourse.

"This is going to my lawyer, you're going to pay a heavy price for this one. The public needs an unbelievable apology and I would suggest you probably should step down for what you have created in the last year," said Kipp.


-- With files from Ian Holmes --

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