Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The CBC offers up damning allegations of Prince Rupert City Hall procedures

And we thought it was going to be quiet for a bit on the great hiring debate!
It’s perhaps the equivalent of a bombshell revelation, or maybe the long awaited smoking gun of the issue.
The CBC has weighed back into the debate over the hiring of Tanalee Hesse, with what will no doubt become the most talked about story of the year so far.
Posted to their website on Wednesday, was a fascinating report that seems to suggest that the atmosphere at City Hall became rather nasty, as the freedom of information requests began to come in on the controversial hiring issue.

The most intriguing aspect of the CBC report was the account of allegations that the City Manager attempted to block the freedom of information requests, using what can only be described as a hardball approach to one of his fellow co-workers, or perhaps a better term may be a bullying approach, as that seems to best describe the alleged events of those days.

Citing a letter from Doug Jay’s personal lawyer, which was obtained by the CBC, there was a veiled reference that perhaps further employment prospects at City Hall for Mr. Jay, then the city's corporate administrator and freedom-of-information officer, were at risk on this issue. A situation that apparently became uglier as a threat of a dismissal hearing was said to have been made, unless Mr. Jay chose to accept a resignation offer and settlement.

If proven true, this clearly adds more fuel to the fire that there are far too many unusual things happening at City Hall outside of the realm of open and transparent governance.

The tone of the CBC report leaves one to wonder just how many other employees at City Hall may have chosen to move on to other posts elsewhere, rather than work in what seems to have become a rather toxic environment.

Back in June we first asked on this blog the question of whatever happened to Doug Jay.
Now it would seem we have our answer, if the CBC report is accurate (and they have pretty good lawyers at the CBC so one might tend to listen intently), Mr. Jay sought medical advice at that time citing stress, one imagines over what would appear to be his deteriorating employment environment, eventually going on stress leave.

If the account of events as presented by the CBC is correct, then this issue suddenly moves to a whole new dimension of interest. Leaving us to wonder if the Mayor and his council have signed off on this new style of human resources and administration development at City Hall.

The City recently launched a third party review of the events surrounding the hiring of Ms. Tesse, however if this latest potential bombshell should be proven true, then it’s clear that maybe a full fledged inquiry is required into the many other issues going on down on Third Avenue.

As it is, things aren’t particularly passing the smell test lately from that part of town, and confidence seems to be ebbing away in the behaviour of those that govern us.

There is a need for full disclosure on all the events that pertain to this issue, finally once and for all providing the citizens and taxpayers with a bit of comfort, that the proper procedures will be followed and finally bringing this issue to a just resolution.

Monday, during the course of the council meeting, Mayor Pond apologized to Mr. Howie for the way his name had been bounced around during the course of the nights presentation and the many weeks of speculation over the issue.

If the CBC story of today is proven to be a true record of events of that time, then it would seem that it is Mr. Jay that will be the one deserving of an apology and we suspect much, much more..

Rather than this contentious issue beginning to wind down to an end, it seems that in reality things may only just be getting started.

Prince Rupert launches review of secret contracts to manager's wife
Last Updated: Wednesday, September 10, 2008 3:52 PM ET

CBC News

Prince Rupert's city council has launched a legal review of the controversial hiring of the wife of the city manager on a secret contract.

CBC News reported last week that Tanalee Hesse was awarded city contacts totalling $109,000 that were never tendered or made public, and only revealed after a freedom-of-information request.

On Monday night, concerned citizens filled city council chambers demanding to know how and why the contracts were awarded after the release of a city memo, which said the contracts with Hesse appeared to be "illegal or improper."

"We want to know what's going on in City Hall. What we're hearing is things are not being done properly up there. As concerned taxpayers, we want answers," said local businesswoman Gina Garon.

Mayor backs down after defending contracts

Last week, Mayor Herb Pond defended the secret arrangement, saying he had to hire Hesse because the city was struggling and needed her skills. Pond said city council never voted on the contracts, but councillors knew about them and agreed to them in a closed-door meeting.

But on Monday night, the mayor and council agreed to scrutinize those same contracts.

"We will be using external legal advice and external auditors or whatever is required to insure that the public trust is well protected," said Pond.

Hesse withdrew her services to the city after learning there was a freedom-of-information request about her contracts. In an undated letter to Mayor Herb Pond from Hesse that was obtained through the freedom-of- information request and given to the CBC, Hesse wrote, "It has come to my attention that my existing contract with the city has become the subject of a freedom-of-information request ... I have no desire to become the fodder for political cannon fire ... I will finalize my contractual obligations to the city on Friday, May 2."

Release blocked by city manager, city official alleges

Meanwhile CBC News has learned of new allegations, that city manager Gord Howie tried to block the release of information about his wife's contracts.

The allegations were contained in a letter from a lawyer representing the city's corporate administrator and freedom-of-information officer Doug Jay, and that was obtained by CBC News.

Jay's lawyer alleges in the letter that "Mr. Howie advised that he did not want the documents disclosed. Mr. Howie said that he had had to let others go ... and it would be a shame if that happened to Mr. Jay because Mr. Jay did not take Mr. Howie's point."

The letter further stated: "On or about April 15 and 17, 2008, Mr. Jay received several requests for information regarding contracts made between the city and Mr. Howie's wife, including the amounts paid to Mr. Howie's wife. Mr Jay reviewed the requests, considered his obligations and determined that the relevant document should be disclosed in compliance with the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act."

After Jay advised Howie of his decision, the letter alleges, Howie became critical of Jay's conduct and made him an offer to resign and receive an lump sum payment equal to six months of salary or face a dismissal hearing.

Jay eventually sought medical advice and went on stress leave.

Mayor wouldn't 'stoop' to comment on letter

The letter containing the allegations was faxed to the city two weeks ago.

When contacted by CBC News, lawyer Gwendoline Allison of Clark Wilson LLP confirmed she sent a letter to the City of Prince Rupert, but called it a "private and confidential matter" that she would not comment on without the consent of her client.

When first contacted by the CBC, Pond said he had not seen the letter or heard of the allegations.
"There is, to my knowledge, no interference that is taking place," Pond told the CBC on Tuesday. Later in the day, the mayor contacted CBC again, saying he would not "stoop" to comment on the letter.

CBC attempted to contact Howie and Hesse on Tuesday, but they could not be reached for comment. Jay declined the CBC's requests for an interview.

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