Physically and politically, Sarnia's city hall is divided

Despite a wall erected at Sarnia city hall to physically separate the mayor's office from administration, the political climate remains tense.

Wall erected following 2016 report alleging mayor created 'poisonous' work environment

Sarnia city hall is located at the corner of Christina Street N and George Street in downtown Sarnia, Ont. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Despite a wall erected at Sarnia's city hall to physically separate the mayor's office from administration, the political climate remains tense.

A report released in October 2016 concluded that Mayor Mike Bradley created a toxic work environment by engaging in "egregious bullying and harassment" when dealing with senior city staff.

In response, city council levied sanctions against Bradley, including suspending his pay for three months. 

Council also approved the construction of a $75,000 key card and wall system to separate the political and administrative areas of the municipal headquarters. Construction started in January 2017 and was completed that summer.

It's a measure that, according to city councillor Anne Marie Gillis, almost all city halls in southwestern Ontario have.

"The staff are very, very happy with the way the setup is, because of how they were treated prior to [the wall]," said Gillis. "There were many people who were afraid to come to work."

Anne Marie Gillis is a Sarnia city councillor. (Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

Currently, Bradley cannot communicate directly or one-on-one with the city CAO, clerk and several other municipal employees. He has to go through an intermediary, such as Gillis.

Bradley against changes

For his part, Bradley said city councillors are simply trying to get political leverage against him.

"I would say the relationships are still strained," the mayor said, adding that he still has a lot of public support. "The only answer that I see is the election in the fall. Whether I run or not, I believe there's going to be a lot of candidates running that want to open up city hall again."

Bradley said he believes the separation of city hall is part of a decline in customer service for Sarnia residents.

Sarnia mayor Mike Bradley in his city hall office. (Colin Côté-Paulette/Radio-Canada)

"I used to hear that Sarnia city hall was not like other city halls, and I'd say, 'that's a good thing,'" he said.

"It wasn't bureaucratic, it wasn't drowning in red tape."

Radio-Canada Windsor reporter Colin Côté-Paulette went on a tour of Sarnia city hall's new layout this week. Tap on the player to hear him describe the scene to Afternoon Drive host Chris dela Torre.

with files from Radio-Canada's Colin Côté-Paulette