Nfld. & Labrador

Dismissed councillors colluded with Steve Kent during HR probe: Mount Pearl deputy mayor

Jim Locke says the public would better appreciate why Andrea Power and Andrew Ledwell were dismissed this week if they could read the Facebook messages that led to their removal.

Jim Locke says the public 'will understand' dismissals if evidence is made public

Mount Pearl Deputy Mayor Jim Locke is defending the process that led to two councillors being removed from office earlier this week. (Sherry Vivian/CBC)

The deputy mayor of Mount Pearl says people would better appreciate why two councillors were dismissed this week if they could read the Facebook messages that led to their removal.

But Jim Locke says it's not clear when that may happen.

"This decision was not arrived at lightly," Locke said in an interview Friday with The St. John's Morning Show.

"If the evidence that was presented to council regarding the misconduct of Mr. Kent and Ms. Power and Mr. Ledwell — if this information is ultimately revealed, if the public is privy to the information and the evidence that was presented to council — the public will understand why council was obligated to take the action that it had to take on this past Tuesday night."

Asked when the people of Mount Pearl could actually see that evidence, Locke said he's unsure, citing pending legal proceedings.

At a virtual public meeting this week, Mount Pearl council voted to unseat Andrea Power and Andrew Ledwell.

They were accused of failing to declare a conflict of interest in the Steve Kent harassment investigation.

An external investigator began interviewing employees at Mount Pearl city hall about their workplace interactions with former chief administrative officer Steve Kent last October. (Rob Antle/CBC)

Kent had been suspended with pay from his job as the city's top bureaucrat since October. He departed the post last month before council could vote to fire him, then sued for wrongful dismissal and breach of privacy.

Power and Ledwell have both maintained their innocence, and indicated they also plan to take legal action.

They were dismissed over online communications they had with Kent while the harassment probe was underway.

"The evidence presented indicated that Ms. Power, Mr. Ledwell and Mr. Kent, they were actively and intentionally working to influence the investigation," Locke said.

"The evidence indicated they were colluding via Facebook messenger on a regular basis to find ways to influence other councillors. They were being coached by Mr. Kent on what to say to the investigator, on what issues and questions to bring to private council meetings."

Locke said they shared confidential council information with Kent. 

"The evidence indicated that they were continually strategizing on how to get Mr. Kent back into his job," the deputy mayor said.

"So they clearly violated their responsibility as a councillor to remain unbiased in this workplace investigation, which was in clear breach of the policy."

Mount Pearl councillors Andrea Power and Andrew Ledwell were stripped of their seats on Tuesday, due to alleged conflict of interest in the Kent investigation. (City of Mount Pearl)

Power told CBC News she was unavailable for an interview Friday.

Ledwell cancelled a planned interview, and said he may be able to reschedule next week.

At Tuesday's council meeting, Power and Ledwell both attacked the viewing of those Facebook messages.

"I have been called in front of a kangaroo court by this council regarding the content of private and personal Facebook messages with former [chief administrative officer] Kent," Ledwell said at Tuesday's meeting, before his seat was vacated.

"I have been effectively spied upon for a period of several months. I view the surreptitious nature of this surveillance to be a heavy invasion of my privacy."

Ledwell said he has contacted the police about the matter.

At the same meeting, Power stressed that the Facebook messages were private.

"I have cried an ocean of tears due to the constant stress, bullying and harassment I have experienced from the mayor and deputy mayor," she said.

Locke again defended the viewing of messages from Kent's Facebook messenger account, saying they were on a city-owned iPad under the city's IT policy, which is "quite clear."  

According to Locke, content on city devices is city property, and is subject to freedom of information laws.

He added that the only messages from the account brought forward to council were between Kent, Power and Ledwell.

In a followup interview for Here & Now later Friday, Locke said he believes the messages will eventually come out.

"But again, we're subject to the legal process. We want to ensure due process. And we're not prepared to release anything that may hamper or hinder that due process."

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About the Author

Rob Antle

CBC News

Rob Antle is producer for CBC's investigative unit in Newfoundland and Labrador.