Former Bancroft councillor Bill Kilpatrick was accused of harassment in March 2018 and later resigned citing fall-out from the allegations as one of the reasons.
“It is our conclusion that based on the evidence that the complainant was indeed harassed by the respondent and by others with his encouragement,” Integrity Commissioner Nigel Bellchamber says in his report, which included interviews with all of council and senior staff members, a review of the minutes of council meetings, Facebook messages and submissions to council by Kilpatrick.
He adds that this means Kilpatrick breached council’s code of conduct. Since he is no longer on council, Bellchamber says council can’t reprimand Kilpatrick.
My Bancroft Now reached out to Kilpatrick for comment on the release of the report, but have not heard back.
Bellchamber asked the councillors “do you believe that the behaviour of the Councillor that was the subject to this complaint harassed was, or was designed to lead to, harassment of the complainant?” He says they all answered yes. He also asked council members why action was not taken quicker when the harassment was taking place. Bellchamber says one councillor said they did not realize it was happening at the time, with another pointing out that they are working on a way to prevent harassment like this from happening in the future.
“We believe that these responses were inadequate,” he says.
Bellchamber points out how there were multiple “unusual elements” to the investigation with Kilpatrick resigning as a Bancroft councillor and the complainant asking for a pause in the investigation process as well.
“Before and after the investigation resumed at the complainant’s request, there were discussions held between the Council and the complainant, through the Mayor, about administrative structure changes that might avoid future situations that could lead to similar complaints,” Bellchamber says. He adds that the discussions did not “bear fruit” and the complainant was let go by the Town.
Bellchamber says that once he was able to interview Kilpatrick, the complainant had filed for wrongful dismissal against the Town. “That suit is apparently still before the courts but has not played any part in this investigation,” he says. “We have not reviewed nor accessed any documents or statements related to that matter.”
Bellchamber notes how it also took “several months” to schedule an interview with Kilpatrick. “The discussion also centred on the efforts of the respondent to deal with what he believed were performance issues on the part of the complainant and how his colleagues on Council in his opinion frustrated his ability to deal with these issues,” he says of what was talked about during the interview. “He indicated that he believed that if he was unable to deal at the Council table with the staff problems that he thought existed, that it was his obligation and right to deal with the issues in a public forum instead, particularly directly and through others on social media and in other public forums.” Bellchamber says Kilpatrick acknowledged he had misunderstood his role even after the training he got when he was elected to council.
Bellchamber does point that Bancroft council at the time did not act quickly or decisively enough to stomp out the harassment when it was taking place. “Council had been informed early in its term of its Workplace Violence and Harassment Policy and its purposes, and its role under the Municipal Act but failed to fully appreciate its responsibility to provide a safe work environment for the complainant and for all employees,” he says.
“A threatening or unwelcome workplace can lead to employee retention problems, difficulty recruiting the best employees when vacancies occur, and low morale and performance among staff,” Bellchamber says.
He does make 10 recommendations to council for how this could be prevented going forward. Bellchamber says that the municipality’s Workplace Violence and Harassment policy should be presented to council every four years after the municipal election on its own as opposed to coming at the same time as a “myriad of other policies and procedures.” He also recommends that the integrity commissioner be involved in training when council’s new term starts.
“That when the annual review of the policy is undertaken by council in accordance with the Occupational Health and Safety Act that it includes a briefing for council on any recent reports or findings under the Occupational Health and Safety Act on Workplace Violence or Harassment in Ontario, rather than just a perfunctory acknowledgment that the policy exists as is the case income municipalities,” Bellchamber states as the fourth recommendation.
He also wants to see a third-party brought in annually to train staff members on the policy, with a record of the training kept for future reference. Bellchamber says for new employees that training should happen within their first two weeks on the job. Council members are being recommended to participate in training on what their roles and responsibilities are within three months of being elected and again at least every 24 months.
He also recommends that any members of the public appointed to local boards and committees must undergo the same training as council.
In regards to complaints being made, Bellchamber recommends that senior staff or council immediately take whatever the appropriate action may be to protect the employee making the accusation until an investigation is done.
Bellchamber’s last recommendation is that council should review its decision to operate without a Chief Administrative Officer position. Former Bancroft CAO Hazel Lambe was let go in July 2018 in what the Town said at the time was a part of a “reorganization process.” Bellchamber says municipal operations are “complex” with numerous policies and statues spanning different departments and functions of a municipality. “Effective managerial leadership cannot be replaced by committees of Council without some elements of sound administration ultimately falling between the cracks at a far greater cost than any ‘savings’ that might ensue,” he says.
A special meeting of council is scheduled for November 27th at 11 AM to receive the report and consider Bellchamber’s recommendations.