Is sensitivity training sufficient deterrent to deal with workplace harassment at city hall?

city_scope_logo-cmykExactly four years ago, we wrote at length about workplace harassment at city hall, referring to it as a “toxic environment.”
At that time, we postulated the City of St. Thomas, as a corporation, should be held to a high standard of excellence with regard to a workplace environment.
The issue in 2015 involved a city employee we identified as ‘Dave’ and his allegations of verbal and physical abuse involving fellow employees and managers.
In a conversation in June of that year with human resources manager Graham Dart, he conceded “As an employer, we don’t have to guarantee a harassment-free workplace, because we can’t do that.
“There is no expectation or requirement of that. But there is an obligation on our part — especially under the Occupational Health & Safety Act — that we address harassment in the workplace.”

The issue of a harassment-free workplace reared its head again Monday (June 17) when council dealt with a report from Mark McDonald, the city’s contracted integrity commissioner.
Last month, McDonald received a signed complaint from a city employee alleging a member of council of the opposite sex “removed a cell phone from a hip pocket, brushed their body against the complainant’s back and casually touched a forearm and elbow multiple times, making the employee feel very uncomfortable.
Of note, there apparently were no witnesses to the alleged event.
Mark McDonaldjpgIn his written report, McDonald noted “there were conflicting versions of what took place, although the councillor admitted to removing the cell phone from a hip pocket.
McDonald concluded, “There is no doubt that this encounter has caused emotional stress and violates council’s Code of Conduct.”
A formal apology was offered, which was declined by the complainant.
McDonald opted not to name the member of council, because “it could very well lead to the identity of the complainant which, in turn, would discourage others from coming forward with complaints.”
That certainly wasn’t the case approximately 15 years ago when this reporter unearthed allegations of sexual harassment against a city employee who was ultimately identified as then treasurer Ron Cutway.
Once identified, several other women collaborated the allegations.
In 2013, this corner wrote about the director of finance who was accused of harassing, bullying and belittling a long-time employee who was forced to spend a considerable amount of time on stress leave.
There were no qualms about identifying Bill Day as the director implicated.
There was no hesitation in fingering then alderman Dave Warden when he was accused of harassing behaviour by a city employee.
Warden’s faux pas?
Questioning (correctly) why this employee was entitled to receive gas mileage.
Former mayor Cliff Barwick and then alderman Lori Baldwin-Sands were both identified when the latter felt intimidated by his actions.
Most recently, Coun. Linda Stevenson was identified for a Code of Conduct breach during an in-camera meeting.
As to McDonald’s recommendations, they are little more than a slap on the wrist, although the integrity commissioner strongly disagrees with that assertion.
He advised council to adopt a finding that an article of the Code of Conduct was contravened and all members of council – not just the respondent – undertake sensitivity training.
In a phone conversation this week with McDonald we asked him, in this #Me Too age, if the above was sufficient.
He explained the complaint did not meet the definition of sexual harassment.
McDonald continued, “I’m not even sure it meets that (harassment). It has to be a pattern of behaviour, it can’t be a one-time incident.”
By not identifying the councillor, does that not cast an element of guilt over all members of council?

“You have to take into account the actual situation and the evidence. So I took that into consideration, plus wanting to ensure that others feel unencumbered if they want to come forward in the future.”

“I don’t know,” advised McDonald. “I just know my job is to make sure I preserve confidentiality and make sure there is a climate for people who think they have been victimized to come forward without worrying about having their name coming forward and being identified.
“In the particular circumstances of this case, and the way I handled it, it wasn’t in the public interest to identify the individuals and that is covered in the report.”
As to our differing opinion on his recommendations, McDonald stressed “Council has acknowledged there was a breach. That is also a deterrent. The sensitivity training should enhance that understanding. I’m erring on the side of protecting victims and potential victims in the future.
“You have to take into account the actual situation and the evidence. So I took that into consideration, plus wanting to ensure that others feel unencumbered if they want to come forward in the future.”
Will victims come forward knowing the nature of McDonald’s recommendations to council? Or will they be a disincentive?
“There is a finding,” McDonald asserted. “That brings it to the attention of council and everybody about a heightened awareness of interaction. You have to look at the exact situation and the evidence that was presented. It is a subjective determination of what the integrity commissioner feels is in the best public interest.”
Council had the option of going beyond McDonald’s recommendations and could have – under its Code of Conduct – suspended the councillor or withheld salary.
It did neither.
McDonald conceded, “they have other avenues. It’s like a staff report. They don’t have to accept the recommendation or they could amend it as long as they stay within the provincial legislation. My understanding is they accepted the recommendation . . . and to acknowledge there was a breach. That is significant.”
We have attempted to contact Mayor Joe Preston to ascertain why no further action is to be taken and we await a response.

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With regard to the heritage easement agreement between the city and Patriot Properties covering their proposed development on the site of Alma College, city manager Wendell Graves is on the record as to what will transpire and when.
“Pending approval from the Local Planning Appeal Tribunal,” explained Graves, “prior to the development actually proceeding, council will be required to manage the planning matters for the site which include the removal of the holding zones, final approval of the site plan and the city will be required to enter into a Community Improvement Program grant agreement for the project.”
Alma cleanupjpgThe fate of several dozen trees – some planted by Alma students – and the final landscaping will be part of the site plan approval.
A clear definition of what must be done, and when, before work can begin on the three-tower project.
So, why are we hearing of dozens of trees felled on the Moore Street property before the province has approved the heritage easement agreement?
Did Michael Loewith of Patriot Properties proceed on his own or did city hall issue a permit to proceed with the removal of the trees in spite of Graves’ documented schedule?
In a conversation with Graves on Thursday (June 20), he observed it is likely something that transpired “inadvertently.”
He continued, “I’ve asked for all the facts to come together on that situation so we can have that for council for the July meeting.”
Graves advised he does not have an inventory of the trees that were levelled.
“I will be looking forward to getting that information.”
In a conversation with Graves earlier this month, he confirmed crews were on the property finishing the formal site cleanup.
He stressed, “There is no green light yet.”
What many may not realize, Loewith and Patriot Properties do not, at this point, own the 11 acres or so at the former school for girls.
London developer Gino Reale remains the owner and we caught up with him this week to determine when the transaction may be completed.
“We’re anticipating a closing shortly,” suggested Reale.
He then indicated, “They (Patriot Properties) were in there, they had permission to cut down trees . . . which I wasn’t aware of.
“Loewith wants to get in the ground yesterday, so sometime next month I think it will close.”
Reale went on to note once the sale is complete, he will no longer be involved in any way with the Patriot Properties’ development.
So, we come back to who at city hall gave the green light (prematurely) to remove dozens of trees?

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Alma heritage easement agreement preserves the few remaining remnants


Want to know what MPP Jeff Yurek is up to this weekend?
You will find him catching up on his reading, and it won’t be mindless fiction set aside for a day lounging at the beach.
For the third time in less than a year, the Elgin-Middlesex-London MPP will quickly get himself up to speed as he presides over a new ministry.
SCHOOL BUS YUREK (1)On Thursday, Premier Doug Ford announced a significant cabinet shuffle that will see Yurek move from transportation minister to the environment, conservation and parks portfolio.
Speaking with Yurek following the announcement, he noted time constraints will be a factor as he gets up to speed with his new responsibilities.
“We have the provincial ministers’ meeting next week in Halifax so I have to get up to speed really quick.
“I am well versed at getting up to speed,” chuckled Yurek. “I have a process I have developed. It’s a challenging file and I look forward to it.”
Yurek clearly was up to the task dealing with a fast-moving transportation agenda.
“We accomplished quite a bit over eight months. Hopefully, I can do the same with the environment ministry.”
The immediate focus, noted Yurek, will be “challenging the federal government on the carbon tax. We will also focus on revamping the recycling program and dealing with litter and waste throughout the province.”
As to the proposed Trudeau government ban on single-use plastics, Yurek indicated “We have our own plan for plastics that is pretty much on par with what the federal government has put forward.
“We look forward to working with them on ways of reducing the amount of plastic sold and used in Ontario.”
Yurek will also cast the spotlight on conservation authorities.
“To make sure they are following their core mandate and ensure they are able to provide support to residents on the flood plains and the other effects of the changing climate.”
This week’s shuffle increased the size of the cabinet, ironic in that a Conservative mantra is usually centred on less government.
“We have brought in more bright minds to come up with better ways to serve the people of Ontario. We will be working our communication strategies to ensure people understand why we are doing what we do and what the effects are.
“The people brought on board are focussing in on ministries the premier feels need that extra support going forward: healthcare, transportation and energy.”
Yurek added, “I think the premier’s office has taken a look over the year at who has stood out in their performance in the back bench and throughout caucus and I think they have been rewarded for their hard work.”
That would include the likes of new Minister of Finance Rod Phillips, replacing Vic Fedeli after bringing in just one provincial budget.

“The best way to keep our environment clean and tackle the changing climate is to work together on issues as opposed to against each other.”

Returning to the point made by Yurek on spreading the government’s message to the electorate, he agreed “one of the issues is the whole communication strategy to ensure our message is getting out as to why we are doing what we have to do and what to expect from those changes.
“I know the premier wants to re-focus on that type of plan so people know what is going on in the province and understand.”
Does Ford now have the stand-pat cabinet needed to successfully move forward with his agenda and avoid a repeat of the raucous reception received earlier this week in Toronto at the Raptors’ championship celebration?
“You can never tell in politics when a shuffle will occur,” observed Yurek. “I can’t judge what will happen in the next six months to a year.”
But the hope, added Yurek, is to “continue to improve people’s lives and put more money in their pocket and protect our services throughout the province.”
As to adjusting his mindset with each shuffle over the past year, Yurek admitted it is difficult.
“You are focused on your one area of expertise and you are now moved to a different department which is working totally different. You get a whole new staff as well and it’s learning who they are while learning about your new portfolio.
“It’s a stressful time period but I’ve been through it and you do get over it. You put your head in books and read a lot and listen.
“I definitely won’t have the same amount of announcements I had in transportation but I think the issues are in the forefront on the national stage and I will be participating more on those discussions.”
That includes the federal carbon tax and Yurek will be communicating with his counterparts in other provinces opposed to it.
“I get to meet them all next week in Halifax and I think there will be ongoing discussions because there are a number of us with court challenges. We will be working together on that issue.
“The best way to keep our environment clean and tackle the changing climate is to work together on issues as opposed to against each other.”

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Last week’s item on the desire of the Ostojic Group to move forward with a subdivision in the Hill and Barwick streets area of the city prompted this suggestion from Dave Mathers.

“Thought starter – instead of replacing the old wooden bridge why not make it a level crossing. Major cost savings.”

Have to admit it’s not a concept presented in past discussions at city hall on replacement of the old structure.

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