Councillors concerned about Mayor Gondek's handling of complaints against her chief of staff

Several city councillors are unhappy with the way Mayor Jyoti Gondek handled complaints about the behaviour of her former chief of staff.

City hired an outside firm to investigate complaints filed against Stephen Carter

At least three city councillors and a manager with the City of Calgary filed complaints about the behaviour of Stephen Carter, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek's former chief of staff. (Radio-Canada)

Several city councillors are unhappy with the way Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek handled complaints about the behaviour of her former chief of staff.

Stephen Carter was dismissed from his job on Feb. 2. No reasons have been given publicly for his sudden departure.

At least three city councillors and a manager with the City of Calgary filed complaints about Carter's behaviour.

But Coun. Sonya Sharp said that she told the mayor in early November 2021 about her concerns with Carter.

Sharp said she felt bullied by him and that Carter tried to intimidate her to cooperate with the mayor on council matters or Sharp would have difficulty getting things done.

She was unhappy with his conduct, so Sharp raised the matter directly with the mayor on Nov. 5, 2021.

"I wanted it to be more her and I, just one on one. Unfortunately when I went to her office, Stephen Carter stayed in the room. I reiterated everything he said to me, in front of her, in front of him," said Sharp.

"Obviously, I was clearly upset about the interaction I had."

The alleged bullying and the lack of response from the mayor bothered her so much that the newly-elected Sharp said she contemplated resigning her seat.

Instead, she decided to file a complaint.

Additional complaints

Sharp learned later there were other complaints against Carter and the city hired an external firm to investigate the matters.

No information is available on the cost of that investigation.

Coun. Andre Chabot had problems with the behaviour of the former chief of staff.

He complained to city manager David Duckworth, who promised to take up the matter with the mayor's office.

However, Chabot said he was told there was nothing that could be done by the City of Calgary as Carter was the mayor's employee.

Stephen Carter, Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek's former chief of staff, was dismissed from his job on Feb. 2. No reasons have been given publicly for his sudden departure. (Sam Martin/CBC)

Coun. Sean Chu also filed a complaint related to Carter's behaviour through the city's whistleblower program.

Chu was interviewed by the independent investigator and he heard back that the matter was concluded.

In her case, Sharp said she was told that her complaint was found to be valid, but she received no information about next steps.

That word came to her the same day Carter was fired by the mayor.

Sharp said that the hiring of the outside investigator and the spending of public money for that could possibly have been avoided if there had been more action from Gondek in early November.

She said she has still not heard anything from the mayor about the whole episode.

"It's okay sometimes to admit, okay, what happened, it was not okay and let's talk about it," said Sharp.

"But for all this time to go by and no one sitting down and saying: okay I'm really sorry. This is what happened. I heard. But, this is not really how you deal with these situations considering we have three and a half years to go here."

Sharp said she's grateful for the support of her family and her council colleagues in helping her work through the impacts of the situation.

The mayor was asked for comment on the situation and her handling of the complaints.

However, Gondek refused to discuss it. She would only say Carter's departure was "a personnel matter."

Since being asked by CBC News to comment, the mayor started reaching out to her council colleagues to see if they want to set up one-on-one meetings with her.

Sharp plans to take up the mayor on the offer. "I need her to hear from me about how detrimental this was for me."

'An opportunity to change things around'

A political studies professor at Mount Royal University, Lori Williams, said the mayor's handling of the first complaint seems to have compounded the problems.

"A lot of things could have been repaired much more easily early on and it's probably much more difficult to try to make up for the damage that's been done at this stage of the game," said Williams.

Given that Gondek campaigned last year as someone who could work collaboratively with council, Williams said the handling of this situation reflects badly on the mayor.

The money spent on the investigation can't be recovered, but Williams said it's what happens next that determines the extent of the damage.

Mount Royal University political studies professor Lori Williams says though the handling of the situation reflects badly on the mayor, what happens next will determine the extent of the damage. (Colin Hall/CBC)

She pointed out that Gondek did remove Carter from his position, although nothing is known about the reasons or the timing.

"It's an opportunity to attempt a reset. There may be skepticism or resistance from those who don't think the mayor dealt with things effectively up until this point. But it is an opportunity to turn things around."

Carter said he wasn't told why he was dismissed.

He refused a request for an interview.

But Carter did say that the conversation he had with Coun. Sharp was the same conversation he had with other councillors and no one else raised any objections

He also said that those conversations were held at the direction of Mayor Gondek.

Carter said he was interviewed by the investigator hired by the city and he strongly refuted the allegations.

Following Carter's departure from the mayor's office, his former deputy, Amie Blanchette, was named the acting chief of staff.


Scott Dippel

Politics Reporter

Scott Dippel has been at CBC News for more than two decades across four provinces. His roles have included legislative reporter, news reader, assignment editor and national reporter. When not at Calgary's City Hall, it's still all politics, all the time.


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