Nfld. & Labrador

Steve Kent out as top bureaucrat at Mount Pearl city hall

The city says it informed Kent of a pending motion to dismiss him for just cause when he resigned. Kent says he is suing Mount Pearl for constructive dismissal and breach of privacy.

Council had motion pending to dismiss him; Kent says he’s suing for constructive dismissal

In September 2017, Steve Kent formally announced he was accepting the top civil servant job at the City of Mount Pearl. (Terry Roberts/CBC)

Steve Kent is out as chief administrative officer with Mount Pearl city council, in an acrimonious split that is spilling from city hall to the courthouse.

The two sides issued duelling press releases Thursday afternoon.

The city says it issued Kent a letter on June 16, notifying him of a motion to dismiss him from his job for just cause, which was set to be presented at a council meeting June 30.

"Reasons given to Mr. Kent include numerous breaches under the employee code of conduct policy and serious allegations of misconduct, all of which were detailed in the letter he received from council," the city said in its press release.

"These allegations are outside of the ongoing harassment investigation."

In October, the city placed Kent on paid leave and called in an outside investigator to probe his workplace interactions with city staff.

The city says Kent was offered an opportunity to be heard by council this Friday to answer to the misconduct allegations, but he instead tendered his resignation.

Kent, meanwhile, says he is suing the city for constructive dismissal and breach of privacy.

Also named as defendants are Mayor Dave Aker, Deputy Mayor Jim Locke, and the city's acting director of corporate services, Cassie Pittman.

Kent is also hinting at "disturbing" things he found and "major problems" at city hall, although he did not provide details, citing confidentiality.

"At times, I was not popular with certain members of city staff, as evidenced by the retaliation against me. However, I kept going," he wrote in an emailed statement. 

"I was doing exactly what I was hired to do. What I found was wrong, and I couldn't stand idly by to let it continue."

Kent also alleged that his privacy had been breached by workers.

"City employees have repeatedly accessed my private Facebook messages from the iPad I left behind when I went on leave, even though I had logged out and changed my password," Kent said.

"They have been looking at the private messages between myself and my family, my friends, fellow residents of Mount Pearl and others."

In a statement issued Friday, the city said Kent left the iPad unlocked and his Facebook account logged in so that the full messages popped up on screen and were available without any need for a password.

"It became obvious that there was continuous communication by Steve Kent related to the harassment investigation and other city-related issues that would be considered inappropriate behaviour of someone currently under investigation," the city's statement noted.

It added that neither Aker, Locke nor Pittman "had access or visibility to the iPad or the Facebook Messenger account" and the iPad was a city-owned device governed by city IT policies.

'All I wanted was a fair process'

Prior to this latest turn of events, Kent had been on paid leave from the $200,000-plus-per-year job for nearly nine months.

The city has largely remained silent, until issuing its press release Thursday. Council declined further comment, but added  that the city will "have more to say on this matter in the coming days."

An external investigator was called in last fall to interview employees at Mount Pearl city hall about their workplace interactions with Kent. (Rob Antle/CBC)

Kent did not grant an interview request from CBC News.

His emailed statement called his employment relationship with the City of Mount Pearl irreparably harmed.

"All I wanted was a fair process. The city has responded with constant obstacles and considerable disregard for my employee rights," Kent wrote.

"CUPE [the Canadian Union of Public Employees] has shown total contempt and disrespect for the ongoing process, including disparaging me publicly. Mayor Aker and the city council have done nothing about it."

Kent is former mayor of Mount Pearl, provincial cabinet minister and deputy premier. He left his post as MHA and elected politics in the fall of 2017 to take on the top civil service job with the city.

His statement to the press Thursday listed a website registered three days ago. It includes Kent's bio, contact information, and a form letter that allows people to express their displeasure to council.

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