Inquiry into Yellowknife bylaw department goes dark

Yellowknife city council held a secret meeting this week to discuss part of its plan to shore up public confidence in municipal government.

City SAO defends secret meeting at city hall to discuss inquiry scope and process

Yellowknife city council and a lawyer held a private meeting recently to discuss allegations of misdoings by the city's manager of municipal enforcement. (Priscilla Hwang/CBC)

Yellowknife city council held a secret meeting last week to discuss part of its plan to shore up public confidence in municipal government.

The meeting was held Tuesday in a city hall boardroom. Councillors, the city's senior administrative officer, and a lawyer hired by the city attended. The topic was an inquiry council has ordered into allegations of workplace misconduct in the city's municipal enforcement division.

City council unanimously called for the inquiry on Jan. 22, shortly after CBC and Yellowknifer newspaper reported that municipal enforcement officers who worked for the city as recently as 2014 allege manager Doug Gillard used security cameras in city facilities to eye women he found attractive, slapped officers in the groin, rubbed spit on their sunglasses, and made inappropriate sexual comments about female city employees.

Yellowknife SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett would not say who called the Tuesday meeting. She said a lawyer briefed her and council on options for the scope and process for the inquiry. Bassi-Kellett emphasized the meeting was for information only and — though councillors asked questions and the questions were answered — no discussion took place.

"It's very important coming out of the legal case in the late 1990s that there is no private meeting where positions are taken, action is taken, decisions are made," said Bassi-Kellett.

"That's very, very clear and it's very much on council's and my radar that we do not do that."

City of Yellowknife SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett says the recent private meeting of council was not a repeat of activities in the late 90s shot down by the courts. (Garrett Hinchey/CBC)

The case Bassi-Kellett refers to here brought to an end a longstanding Yellowknife council practice of holding weekly "briefing meetings" that included council and senior city staff. Steven Cooper, the lawyer who won the case for the Yellowknife Property Owners Association, said the meeting held Tuesday sounds a lot like those "briefing meetings."

"When there's lawyers attending and all of the councillors and administrative staff are there ... I cannot conceive of a meeting of that nature in which the issue is not materially advanced," he said.

No records were kept of the meeting and no public notice was given of it. Both are required under the N.W.T. government's Cities, Towns and Villages Act for any meeting of council. Bassi-Kellett said city council holds meetings like this two or three times each year.

Cooper said Friday he's surprised to hear such meetings are still being held.

"The legislation absolutely permits this sort of gathering," he said.

"Why they didn't constitute it properly and go through some of the formalities absolutely beggars the imagination."

Yellowknife city councillor Adrian Bell deferred a previously scheduled interview with CBC to city SAO Sheila Bassi-Kellett on Friday, saying it's "important for the city to speak with one voice." (CBC)

CBC learned of the meeting from Coun. Adrian Bell, who proposed the inquiry.

Bell mentioned it during a call about its progress. He agreed to do an interview about the meeting at 1:30 p.m. on Friday, then rescheduled it for 2:30 p.m., then changed his mind and said Bassi-Kellett would answer questions.

"It's important for the city to speak with one voice," he said.

Public may never know full result of inquiry

The public may never see the report done by the third-party investigator the city plans to hire to investigate the allegations.

"Things that are specific to individuals are not for public consumption," said Bassi-Kellett. "But they will certainly be taken and acted on appropriately."

Though council directed the inquiry to investigate allegations of wrongdoing in the city's municipal enforcement division, it was a response to allegations specifically about Gillard.

The city turned off city security cameras shortly after the allegations were made public. On Monday, council will discuss a new policy outlining what security cameras can and can't be used for.