In the space of two months, Elliot Lake’s Integrity Commissioner Robert Swayze has handed down reports critical of the conduct of some former councillors.
In early December the commissioner presented council with a report on his findings into the conduct of former councillors Scot Reinhart and Candace Martin, who resigned their council seats prior to the report being made public, and current councillor Connie Nykyforak.
The report dealt with complaints by Michael Humble, who resigned his post as corporate services director, alleging the councillors interfered with work done by him and staff.
Swayze stated in his Dec. 11 report that the councillors had overstepped their responsibilities contained in council’s code of conduct requirements.
The commissioner’s most recent report, read out at council on Monday evening, dealt with another complaint lodged by the city’s economic development coordinator Ashten Vlahovich and focused solely on former councillor Reinhardt.
“On Aug. 30, 2017 I received a complaint from Ms. Ashten Vlahovich against former Councillor Scot Reinhardt, alleging, prior to his resignation from Council, that he contravened the Code by bullying and harassing her concerning the performance of her job.” Swayze stated in his report. “She referred to ‘continuous’ threats from Mr. Reinhardt ‘of doing as he advised or it would be bad for me’ and he intimated that she needed his ‘political support’. “
“She avoided contact with him and was ‘concerned for her job and mental wellbeing’,” the commissioner noted.
Vlahovich originally did not want her complaint made public, but decided to allow its publication after the three complaints issued by Humble against the councillors were made public.
Swayze said he contacted Reinhardt about the complaint and received an email response from the former councillor on Jan. 3.
“In our interview and repeated in the response, he stated that he knew the complainant since she was a child and only tried to encourage her and assist her in her work environment,” the commissioner said with regard to the former councillor’s response. “He confirmed that he ‘spent a fair number of hours (mostly working lunches) going over Ashten’s plans and specifics of a number of projects she was working on’.”
“He encouraged her to ‘shun the general dissent that was rising up in her department’. He also claimed that he ‘was asked by management to see if I could encourage her to try her best to make it work. He did not identify which member of management made such a request and I am certain it was not Mr. Humble’,” Swayze added in his report.
He stated he found no evidence of any dissension within the department and said any such complaints should be dealt with by the city’s current CAO Dan Gagnon.
“On a balance of probabilities, I believe the complainant suffered stress as a result of Mr. Reinhardt’s regular visits to her workplace when he repeatedly asserted his presumed authority as a councillor to direct her activities. She was afraid of losing her job and I am satisfied that Mr. Reinhardt’s contacts with her went well beyond friendly encouragement as he alleges.” the commissioner stated.
Councillor Ed Pearce said the report shows that “council is everything and individual councillors are nothing. I think that’s a very important thing to remember when we’re dealing with the public and the staff.”
The councillor added that he hopes the most recent report is the last report to come to the council table.
“This type of behaviour has to stop,” Councillor Tammy VanRoon added.
She commended Vlahovich for “having the courage,” to allow the report to be made public.”
“I think you’re a very valued employee and we’re lucky to have you,” she added.
Councillor Nykyforak emphasized that the procedures outlined in council’s code of conduct also applies to members of city committees.
Councillor Luc Cyr said he hoped the report would encourage all staff to “speak out” if they find themselves in similar situations at work.
Councillor Chris Patrie said the report emphasizes the need for early training on conduct for members of council shortly after winning a seat in a municipal election.
“Anyone that’s thinking of running has to understand there are rules that have to be followed,” he said.
Mayor Dan Marchisella extended an apology to Vlahovich.
Council voted in favour of accepting the commissioner’s report.