A few days ago, the editor of Sooke’s weekly print paper published an article stating the Sooke’s CAO was harassed at her home on the evening of August 10, 2016. “Angry group confronts Sooke CAO at home,” read the August 31 headline, which first appeared online on August 27.
From their article, we can glean a complaint was lodged, that the RCMP have begun an investigation, and that the victim is upset.
The article that appears in the print paper offered very few details. None, really, except:
- The threatening event happened on August 4
- The alleged victim called it a “small group”
- The alleged victim felt threatened
- The RCMP are investigating the incident
Unknown are the number of people involved, the nature of the the threat, the issue/s (hiring of the CO? painted rocks? road expansion on Grant? cars and trailers parked on Sooke Rd?), or who initiated the threat (twenty people with signs? three people throwing stones? one person walking a dog tossing a question in her general direction?).
First significant error in the print paper: Bullying as an ongoing issue for council and staff
The print paper took poetic license with some the facts. “Bullying, especially the online kind, has plagued the council and district staff for months,” the article stated matter-of-factly. If by “bullying” the print paper means “being asked difficult questions by the public,” then we at SPN might be able to swallow it.
SPN has been asking difficult question, which we have published in our paperless (of the online kind) newspaper.
Our questions have solicited cries of harassment (defamation) came from a former acting mayor (Reay) as a result of SPN questioning a possible conflict of interest in January (still under investigation, by the way, and recently escalated). SPN observed that there was a former executive working relationship between the Chair of the Hiring Committee and the ultimate hire. We observed the sudden and substantive loss of expertise of staff at the District. We observed that the newly hired CAO direct-hired a former colleague. Our scrutiny resulted in a Cease and Desist letter to Santowski from the CAO in March, and was followed by Demand letter from Reay in June.
We reported on Rick Kasper’s attempt to leverage a temporary appointment as Director with the CRD as a permanent position when the original Director (Tait) went on mat leave. Because of these antics, the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities unanimously passed a resolution, catching municipal governments up to basic Canadian Human Rights in protecting mat leave. SPN reported on that too, with an editorial of our take on the matter.
SPN noted when the CAO tried to direct-appoint Gabryel Joseph as CO, and council had the fortitude to insist the position be competed not direct-appointed. SPN Noted when the CO job was posted, as per council’s directive. SPN noted when the Gabryel Joseph’s probation quietly completed successfully, creating a hiring dilemma for the District. Those questions remain unanswered.
The mayor begins a late June council meeting with a full page statement on how harassment of staff and council will not be tolerated, and closes with promise that offending individuals will be dealt with. Resident and original Council watchdog Gail Hall receives a letter from the District date late June, vaguely noting that some of her statements have been viewed as offensive. She has never been informed specifically of what she did wrong. Which, given that all Council Meetings are both video and audio recorded, should not be an impossible task.
An SPN editorial in early July calling the District out on reinventing the definition of Freedom of Expression resulted in the District issuing a three-page press release throughout the Greater Victoria area, mentioning Santowski by name six times and addressing SPN in eight of their nine elaborate points. (Santowski acknowledged she was wrong on one of her assertions.) A Greater Victoria media frenzy ensued, and included both TV and Radio coverage.
SPN has questioned the quietly hosted (albeit properly posted) off-schedule Council meeting from August 3rd. We did have questions, questions that we posed to the mayor and CAO, questions which have never been answered.
Most recently (early August), SPN pointed out that the CO position cannot be competed because a solid four-year post-probation term of employment already existed. A previous letter to the editor made the same point. When we followed up with the CAO (the alleged victim), we were told by the mayor that she was off sick. Co-incidentally, the CAO was in the office at the time that the email was received by SPN. She had been at work all morning of the day in question.
So, yeah, SPN has a track record of attempting to hold the District accountable. All of it involving District of Sooke matters. Some of the questions have been difficult. But asking difficult questions of politicians and key staff in a democracy does not constitute bullying or harassment.
So, SPN maintains that bullying, especially of the online kind, has not plagued the council and district staff for months. Difficult questions have.
Second significant error: CAO was not hired by unanimous approval
SPN would also like to point out another significant error in the print paper’s report. They wrote that “Sullivan was hired last December as CAO with unanimous approval from council.”
That is blatantly untrue.
In-camera minutes from a Council meeting on November 20, 2015 show that the Hiring Committee (Chair Kerrie Reay, Rick Kasper and Kevin Pearson) recommended Sullivan’s appointment as CAO. Mayor Tait was absent (on mat leave). Bev Berger supported the motion. Councillors Logins and Parkinson opposed the motion. The motion, with the support of Reay, Kasper, Pearson and Berger, carried.
The print paper may have been confusing this narrow margin hire with the unanimous passing of Sullivan’s probation period, which was ended just before the five month mark of Sullivan’s start date (the probation periods outlined in her contract stipulated six months).
The importance of publishing real facts
Fact checking for the print paper appeared to consisted of contacting the RCMP and asking if they were investigating these claims.
SPN sent two emails to the CAO asking for more information. We received no response. We dropped by at the District, but the CAO was unavailable. We sent two emails to Staff Sargent Jeff McArther asking for more information. We received no response. We dropped by the station and were informed that we should probably file an FOI with Ottawa. We have filed the FOI.
The one conformation of the “group” confrontation we did receive came from the mayor. “Yes, the incident occurred at Ms Sullivan’s home,” she wrote in an email, “per the article.”
SPN’s stance on bullying is very straight forward: Bullying and harassment of any sort is not OK. According to WorkSafeBC, “A worker is bullied and harassed when someone takes an action that he or she knew or reasonably ought to have known would cause that worker to be humiliated or intimidated.”
SPN encourages— nay: Strongly Encourages —public participation by way of attending Council meetings. Engage with your politicians. Communicate with them in acceptable forums.
Asking questions is crucial to democracy. That’s what this news outlet has been doing. Observing, researching, asking questions and reporting. Questions are a necessary measure of accountability. It’s called Democratic Process. There are also some things that have not (yet) made it to print. But after we cross all our T’s and do our I’s, it’s coming.
So, yeah, SPN scrutinizes Council and ensures that staff stick to executing council’s directives. Sometimes, scrutiny may result in hurt feelings. But, hurt feelings do not turn scrutiny into bullying.
This is a council and staff that comfortably assumes the victim stance while easily lashing out at individuals for deigning to ask questions (also known as democratic process). If Yoda were real, he might say, “Assuming a victim stance does not a bully make.”
Public office, in a democracy, entails public scrutiny. If politicians and high profile staffers don’t like it, leave.
- District’s past failure to communicate shocks family with this unexpected $2,000 memorial dedication bill
- Delegation reveals Sooke Council divided on being informed
- DELEGATION: Recent bad Council decision tied to the lack of an up-to-date OCP
- District of Sooke grants improper business licence, violates its own zoning
- Expenses for top officials in Sooke increased dramatically
- Criticism is confused with defamation and harassment
- Nov 14, 2016 Council Meeting takeaways: Overview
- District employees vs contractors, and too many shades of grey
- EDITORIAL: SPN differentiates between “bullying” and “asking questions”
- RCMP investigates harassment
- Open Letter: Reminder that Council can change bylaws; administration cannot
- District hiring dilemma: Ignore Council directive, or direct-appoint $460K contract
- District of Sooke quietly hosts Special Meeting
- Letter: Is the Sooke Director of Corporate Services staying or going? Sooke resident calls for leadership
- Interim Sooke Fire Chief will be former Colwood Fire Chief Russ Cameron
- Sooke Fire Chief Steven Sorensen hangs up his helmet
- Legal letters to SPN “not a District thing”
- The District of Sooke is hiring: “Director of Corporate Services and Corporate Officer”
- SPN Takeaways: Regular Sooke Council Meeting, July 11, 2016
- Mayor Tait invites dialogue, would like to see Sooke’s progress and successes highlighted
- CFAX1070 interviews Britt Santowski regarding harassment in Sooke
- Both sides of the story presented on CHEK News
- District of Sooke News Release: Freedom of Expression in Sooke
- Editorial: Freedom of speech in Sooke must be constructive
- Bullying, harassment of District officials, Councillors will not tolerated
- Sooke resident raises many questions wants dialogue, transparency, answers
- Sooke Council passes motion in spite of “strong” staff recommendation
- District severance decision appealed
- LETTER: Sooke CAO clears up inaccuracies
- LETTER: Quiet and possibly expensive policy shift happening at Sooke’s Municipal Hall
- Sooke Mayor and Council 100% in support of new CAO
- Why keeping an eye on municipal council matters. A lot. SPN observation from March 14 Council meeting
- Navigating through fog: Sooke Mayor speaks with CBC’s Gregor Craigie about mat leave
- Clarification on the implications of yesterday’s AVICC unanimous motion
- What do you get with a room full of politicians discussing parental leave? Unanimous consent digging us out of the dark ages. #BecauseIts2016
- Editorial: Sooke Council appointed temporary CRD Director and Alternate
- No joke: Sooke’s elected mayor returns to Office
- Regular Council meeting displayed fine example of the money-shuffle spin, March 14 SPN Takeaways
- LETTER: Insecurity in the absence of Leadership
- CAO speaks to effective management through teamwork, collaboration, and role clarity
- Current (acting) mayor slaps the wrists of social media at last night’s Council meeting
- Letter: Leave the heavy lifting for the mayor’s return, focus on maintenance for now
- Longstanding local business owner denied request to appear as delegation at Sooke council meeting
- Sooke staff is slim and trim
- And this week’s mayor in Sooke is…
- Hiring practices at the District of Sooke questionable
- Teresa Sullivan is the new CAO for Sooke
- Changes to Arts funding via community grants in Sooke