Sarnia Mayor accused of creating ‘poisonous work environment’

Integrity Commissioner recommending Bradley be suspended without pay for 90 days

Sarnia City Council is being asked by the City’s Integrity Commissioner to suspend Mayor Mike Bradley’s pay for 90 days after complaints received from two former senior staff and an investigation that called into question the Mayor’s behaviour as it relates to the City’s Code of Conduct.

Council will meet in public at 2 p.m. next Tuesday, (June 28, 2016) to act on the motion.

The Mayor, said Swayze, received the report within the required 10-day period ahead of the Special Meeting. Swayze said he e-mailed the Mayor on June 13, 2016. “I have considered and responded to additional submissions from the Mayor received within the 10-day period,” Swayze said in his report.

Robert J. Swayze.
Robert J. Swayze.

Part of the accusation facing Bradley is that of interfering with the chain of command in the City’s management structure, specifically putting himself in a position of authority between the City Manager and other staff, perhaps confusing his role as so-called “CEO”—which is a reference from the Municipal Act that deals with governments at the local level.

In fact, said Swayze in quoting from the Code of Conduct, “only Council as a whole and no single member has the authority to direct staff.”

Bradley has communicated by e-mail to Lambton Shield, saying he is reviewing the report and will respond “early next week.”

He did say he finds Swayze’s conduct in the investigation biased and unfair. “Every Mayor and taxpayer in Ontario should be very scared for their tax dollars about his conclusions that a Mayor should not have any role in the City day to day.”

If Swayze’s recommendation to Council is followed a paragraph in a resolution, passed on February 29, 2016, that directed the Integrity Commissioner to investigate any contraventions of the Workplace Harassment Policy (J-01) will likely be rescinded.

“I understand that an extensive workplace harassment investigation by a Human Resource consultant is underway, which should not be duplicated,” Swayze wrote in his report to Council.

Swayze has said that the Mayor has breached sections of the Code that prohibit “intimidating, threatening, coercing, commanding, or influencing any staff member with the intent of interfering with that person’s duties, including the duty to disclose improper activity.”

His 14-page report to Council details the complaints of former City Clerk Nancy Wright-Laking, and Jane Cooper, former director of planning.

There are also references to interactions related to two existing employees, City Manager Marg Misek-Evans and Beth Gignac, director of parks and recreation.

The complaints

Wright-Laking left her job on December 31, 2015 and wrote an exit memorandum blaming the Mayor for bullying and harassment, according to the report. Wright-Laking had been Clerk for 17 months, having previously worked for 10 years as City Clerk at the City of Peterborough.

In her complaint to Swayze, Wright-Laking said the Mayor “fosters and promotes a poisoned work environment where fear is the corporate culture.”

While not explicitly stated as such, the issues with the Mayor may have begun with Wright-Laking’s refusal of a request for the Mayor to advertise his re-election campaign on City buses.

Wright-Laking refused the request, citing City By-laws as the reason.

Swayze said in his report that Bradley subsequently “refused to talk to her for approximately three months.”

Some but not all of the accusations referenced in Swayze’s report surround events that occurred before the Code of Conduct came into effect (on April 13, 2015).

One cited in the report was an overheard (but said to be “loud”) Bradley saying that “she is incompetent,” a comment that Swayze said was later confirmed to Wright-Laking as referring to her.

Wright-Laking, through Swayze, is also said to have witnessed a number of interactions involving City Manager Marg Misek-Evans, during which the Mayor criticized the City Manager openly.

Jane Cooper

Jane Cooper, who had quit January 29, 2016, spoke “with the same voice as Ms. Wright-Laking,” writes Swayze in the report.

Cooper detailed several interactions related to the Mayor and ended her complaint with what some have called a stunning accusation: “The Mayor’s comments toward me and other senior managers resulted in a poisonous and vexatious working environment in which he exerted undue influence in the work undertaken by me and my staff. His actions and lack of respect, together with the failure of administration to address the issue was the primary reason I chose to leave.”

Swayze writes that the Mayor’s “most egregious outburst” was at a community planning meeting that occurred on March 25, 2015, less than a month before the Code took effect on April 13 2015.

Cooper said in that meeting that the Mayor, who was present in the back of the audience, “publicly impugned her loyalty to the City when she was representing to the meeting a position taken by planning staff which was her responsibility.”

The City Manager, according to Swayze, declared a conflict of interest in acting as his staff contact. Swayze has said Misek-Evans is seeking independent legal advice regarding her relationship with the Mayor.

Another incident described by Swayze as part of the report on his investigation was an initiative to meet with three union presidents whose members may be affected by a proposed reduction in post-retirement benefits.

Bradley, Swayze said in his report, defended the initiative (which took place on January 6, 2016), giving the opinion that the “(City Manager) as well as all Senior Staff have no labour relations skill sets or training and do not understand the sensitivity and subtlety of dealing with staff.”

Swayze said the Mayor confirmed to him as part of the investigation that he (Bradley) had no training or education in relation to labour relations.

Swayze, in his report, reacted to what has, apparently, been standard practice related to reports to Council and agendas for Council meetings: the prior review and approval of the Mayor.

“In my experience, no City Manager or Clerk in the Province provides advanced copies of agendas and reports to one member of Council for comment,” wrote Swayze. “The Mayor is head of Council but no member of Council reports to the Mayor. It is inappropriate for him to attempt to insert himself in professional relationships between the City Manager and any member of Council.”

Swayze writes that the Mayor has breached sections of the Code that prohibit “intimidating, threatening, coercing, commanding, or influencing any staff member with the intent of interfering with that person’s duties, including the duty to disclose improper activity.”

There are other problems with Bradley’s behaviour, according to Swayze in his report.

One was a January 6, 2016 meeting held by Bradley and three heads of unions whose members may have been affected by proposed reductions in post-retirement benefits.

Bradley, who was said to be advised by Andre Morin, director of engineering (who was acting as City Manager during a vacation period), that such a meeting was not appropriate (it being in the exclusive purview of the City Manager), did so anyway. Swayze wrote that when he asked Bradley what was discussed at the meeting, Bradley’s response was: “Moving forward.”

While Bradley said he has not yet formulated a response to Swayze’s report, he is clearly not pleased.

“The investigation was biased,” he wrote in an e-mail to Lambton Shield. “(It was) a denial of disclosure and fairness and based on gossip and opinion, not fact.”

He also objected to the spending of “tens of thousands of dollars” when “there were other internal ways to resolve any issues at little cost to the taxpayers.

For his part, Swayze wrapped up his report with little ambiguity.

“It is critical, in my view, that a majority of Council, guided by recommendations from professionals, is in charge and not an autocratic Mayor without the support of Council.”

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  • LaszloZoltan

    now we know where rob ford got all his crack