The City of White Rock is planning to amend its Respectful Workplace policy to include council, raising questions from two elected officials about the reasons for the change and past practices involving council disputes.
Council voted Monday to endorse Human Resources Policy 405, which aims to aid the city and its employees in “fostering and maintaining a respectful working environment that is free from discrimination, bullying and harassment.” Among amendments presented Monday is the inclusion of council, who had previously not been part of the policy.
Coun. David Chesney – who was censured by council in March for comments about a fellow councillor published on his website – sought clarification of the amendment and confirmation from city manager Dan Bottrill that council was not previously included in the policy.
“We’ve always expected council to basically deal with the principles with respect to the Respectful Workplace policy,” Bottrill responded. “Now we’re making it formalized.”
However, Coun. Helen Fathers told Peace Arch News Thursday that she felt there were more issues at play regarding the city’s inclusion of council in the policy, referring to her own attempt to file a previous harassment complaint – not reported publicly – earlier this year.
“Having myself tried to use the policy when I’ve been under attack, I was told that I couldn’t use the policy before because councillors weren’t covered,” Fathers said Thursday morning.
Fathers said her complaint was in response to “awful” emails Mayor Wayne Baldwin sent to council and staff that alleged she spoke about in-camera matters in open council.
Baldwin told PAN Thursday that he was unaware of any attempts by Fathers to file a complaint, but recalled his concerns, noting lawyers advised him after the fact that “she came really close” to releasing in-camera information publicly.
“I tried to caution her in the meeting that she was going into in-camera territory,” Baldwin said. “If she believes that’s harassment, that’s too bad. If she had made a public declaration that was in-camera, she could have been in some trouble. I don’t think it had anything to do with respectful workplace.”
Baldwin said the inclusion of council in the city’s policy has “nothing whatsoever” to do with what took place.
Fathers said she spent $1,000 on legal counsel after the incident, and was told by her lawyer that she had “every right to speak to something that is on the open agenda.” She suggested the city is now trying to “retrofit” its policy after issues have arisen during what she described as a “very challenging term.”
“I think they realized there was no mechanism in place for council,” she said, noting she understands Chesney’s concerns.
The motion to censure Chesney that was carried at an in-camera meeting March 23 – and made public a month later – stated Chesney “acted in a manner unbecoming of a city councillor and not in accordance with the principles of City Policy – Respectful Workplace Policy 405 whereby comments considered to be defamatory were published in the online newspaper.”
As a result, Chesney was removed from committees and the deputy-mayor rotation until 2016. At the time, Baldwin said the published comments were determined by the city lawyer to be defamatory, but when questioned confirmed they were “most likely” defamatory; he later said Chesney published information that was a “matter of privilege.”
At council Monday, Chesney asked Bottrill to clarify how he could be censured under the policy if it did not include council.
“The issues I think were not that you weren’t included, but that you weren’t in keeping with the principles in the Respectful Workplace Policy,” the city manager responded. “Very clear in the resolution of council.”
Chesney told PAN he would not comment further until he obtained an official statement to be forwarded to his legal counsel.
Shawn Mitton, regional prevention manager with WorkSafeBC told PAN the respectful workplace program came into place in November 2013, following legislation mandating employers to adopt policies to prevent bullying and harassment in the workplace.
Mitton described White Rock’s inclusion of council in the policy as a “progressive and positive move.”
Council is expected to hold a final vote on the policy changes at its Sept. 28 meeting.