PEI·CBC Investigates

Report on harassment complaint from ex-CAO reveals why Charlottetown councillor was sanctioned

Negative comments on a performance review were one of the factors that led former Charlottetown CAO Peter Kelly to file a harassment complaint against Councillor Bob Doiron, according to documents obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request.

Doiron says investigation into Peter Kelly harassment complaint was flawed

Peter Kelly, left, the former chief administrative officer for the City of Charlottetown, filed a workplace harassment complaint in 2019 against councillor Bob Doiron, right. Newly released documents give the details. (Cody MacKay/CBC)

Negative comments on a performance review were one of the factors that led former Charlottetown CAO Peter Kelly to file a harassment complaint against Councillor Bob Doiron in 2019, according to documents obtained by CBC News through a freedom of information request.

As a result of that complaint and the ensuing investigation, six of Doiron's council colleagues eventually voted in March of 2020 to dock the councillor three months' wages, the equivalent of $10,000.

The city's code of conduct bylaw does allow for such a pay suspension, but Doiron maintains to this day the penalty he received was 20 times higher than the maximum $500 fine allowed under the province's Municipal Government Act. 

Doiron says he believes the sanction against him was meant to stifle criticism at city hall.

After CBC News published letters from two departing employees about concerns they had about the city's financial practices, councillors voted 8-3 to terminate Kelly without cause on May 11 of this year. 

Now that details of the 2019-2020 investigation have been made public, Doiron says that from the start, the investigation did not follow correct procedures.

You're supposed to go to the mayor and come with me and we'll sit down and we'll discuss it in an appropriate manner. None of that was done.- Councillor Bob Doiron

"If you think I'm harassing you or I'm doing something wrong, you're supposed to go to the mayor and come with me and we'll sit down and we'll discuss it in an appropriate manner," said Doiron. "None of that was done."

The code of conduct bylaw does require there be some attempt to resolve complaints through an informal process before an investigation is launched.

However, the city's harassment policy allows the complainant to choose either a formal or informal resolution process.

The investigation concluded that Doiron had breached both policies.

'Psychological distress' caused

The documents show Kelly filed the complaint against Doiron in November 2019, alleging comments the councillor made in the media — which Kelly said were inaccurate — were "harmful to his reputation, as well as the reputation of the City."

Devan J. Corrigan of Corrigan HR Consulting was hired to conduct an investigation of Kelly's complaint, at an eventual cost of $26,000, including associated legal fees.

Corrigan's report includes Kelly's allegation that Doiron's comments were causing "psychological distress" to him and his family, and constituted an "abuse of authority" on the councillor's part. 

As proof of a "trend of harassment," Kelly pointed to low marks Doiron had given him on a performance evaluation earlier that year.

And when Doiron started asking questions about a harassment ruling that went against Kelly (involving a complaint from a city employee), Kelly said the attempt to obtain information about the ruling in itself constituted harassment — against Kelly.

The chief administrative officer, who had served as mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality for 12 years, argued it was part of Doiron's campaign "to draw negative attention to [his] performance" as the City of Charlottetown's top bureaucrat.

Kelly still wants apology

On Thursday, Kelly responded by email to CBC's request for comment on Doiron's statement that the investigation was flawed, writing that in his opinion, "the process was followed." 

He said Mayor Philip Brown spoke with Doiron in 2019 regarding his "harassment and code of conduct violations" and that Doiron told Brown that he would not agree to meet. "Thus I went on to the investigation stage," Kelly wrote.

However, the investigation report makes no mention of such a meeting. It says Kelly chose not to pursue an informal resolution of his complaint. For his part, Doiron says no such meeting with the mayor took place.

Kelly added that Doiron has not yet apologized, as council had requested him to do.

Devan Corrigan, the investigator, told CBC News on Thursday that he has no comment on Doiron's complaints about his investigation and report. 

'Then I can hang him,' councillor wrote in email

The most sensational information included in the report was not part of Kelly's original harassment complaint.

It comes from emails Kelly was given after he filed a freedom of information request in December 2019 seeking access to Doiron's emails.

"I just want lots of evidence; then I can hang him," Doiron wrote about Kelly to an undisclosed recipient in one email, the Corrigan report says.

Councillor Bob Doiron speaks at a Charlottetown city council meeting in September of 2019. (Sarah MacMillan/CBC)

"Peter is such a sneak and gets his way by having a number of councillors in his pocket," Doiron wrote, apparently referring to a controversial move by the city to allow a new asphalt plant to be set up near the Charlottetown airport. The Island Regulatory and Appeals Commission eventually quashed the plan

"I just don't know how to get him in something that he is doing wrong because it just flows off his back and is always someone else's fault," Doiron wrote.

The response from the unnamed email recipient was that "getting rid of Peter Kelly will be easy," and "the paving alone is grounds for dismissal."

Paving bill exceeded tenders

The key allegation Doiron ended up bringing forward to reporters and fellow councillors was that the city had spent nearly a million dollars on paving authorized not by council, as the Municipal Government Act required, but by Kelly.

Two paving tenders were awarded by council on May 24, 2018, totalling $1.9 million. But the final bill for the contracts ended up at $2.8 million.

Councillors Terry Bernard and Mike Duffy attributed that to an error by a public works employee, resulting in too much asphalt being ordered. As a result, Duffy said, the city decided to pave 11 extra streets.

When Bob Doiron raised concerns about Peter Kelly authorizing paving expenditures in 2018, fellow councillor Mike Duffy (shown) argued no further authorization was required because council had already approved $3 million for paving in Charlottetown's capital budget. (Natalia Goodwin/CBC )

Even though the total spent exceeded the tenders council had approved, Duffy argued no further authorization was required from councillors because council had already approved $3 million for paving in its capital budget.

Corrigan's report said he was satisfied with that explanation.

Former deputy raised paving, other concerns

The paving issue was one of 18 concerns put forward by former deputy CAO Scott Messervey in a letter to councillors sent in January 2019, shortly after Kelly fired him. 

A certified professional accountant who had spent eight years working in the office of P.E.I.'s auditor general, Messervey concluded the expenditure was "not consistent with the requirements of the [Municipal Government Act]."

Messervey also told councillors he believed Kelly had fired him as his deputy because Messervey was raising financial concerns.

In his dismissal letter to Messervey, Kelly said his deputy was being let go in part because of his interactions with staff and councillors, saying some of them felt Messervey was "looking for errors, rather than attempting to work with them." 

Accusations 'unfounded,' investigator concluded

Corrigan said in his report that he interviewed nine witnesses while preparing to write the report, and concluded all them were credible — with the exception of Doiron.

He said Doiron's accusations were unfounded and made with the intent "to harm Mr. Kelly's reputation," concluding that was a breach of both the city's harassment policy and the code of conduct bylaw.

On March 7, 2020, councillors were summoned to a special closed-door meeting and given a chance to view the investigation report, but weren't allowed to have copies or even to take notes from it.

Two weeks later, the six councillors who attended that meeting voted to suspend Doiron's salary for 90 days.

Not all councillors interviewed

Doiron denies having harassed Kelly and said he has always respected the city's code of conduct bylaw. He said he believes the investigation was set up from the start to find him at fault.

He said Corrigan "only took certain councillors in [for interviews], he didn't take them all in. He took in who he wanted to get the recommendation he was looking for."

Mayor Philip Brown sits behind chief administrative officer Peter Kelly at a meeting of Charlottetown City Council on April 25, 2022. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

The report does not identify most of the people interviewed. It says witnesses were chosen based on relevant comments they had made in the media, their committee involvement in the subject matter, or referrals from other witnesses.

Doiron said the list of financial concerns raised by Messervey still hasn't been investigated, and should be.

A week after Messervey wrote to councillors in early 2019, they went into a closed-door session and afterwards voted 7-3 to consider the matter closed, saying "no further action is required."

"The whole thing about city hall, you're supposed to be quiet. You're not allowed to say a word about anything," Doiron said this week. "It's under a golden seal of secrecy. And it's wrong."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kerry Campbell

Provincial Affairs Reporter

Kerry Campbell is the provincial affairs reporter for CBC P.E.I., covering politics and the provincial legislature. kerry.campbell@cbc.ca

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