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West Van mayor investigated for workplace bullying

Top staff exit West Vancouver municipal hall
Former CAO Robert Bartlett (left) has left his position and Scott Findlay (right) has been appointed new municipal manager at the District of West Vancouver, Mayor Mark Sager (centre) has announced. | District of West Vancouver

The top two staff at the District of West Vancouver, including the Chief Administrative Officer, have left their jobs and a third senior bureaucrat is on leave at the municipality, the North Shore News has learned. The departures come as a third-party investigation is underway into a formal staff complaint alleging bullying and harassment by Mayor Mark Sager.

CAO Robert Bartlett abruptly left his job as top bureaucrat at the municipality as of last week. The municipality confirmed that “Robert Bartlett is no longer with the District of West Vancouver,” adding Sager “would like to thank Mr. Bartlett for his service to the community and wishes him well in his future endeavours.”

Bartlett had been CAO of the municipality for the past three years.

No reason was given for his sudden departure. In an interview, Sager said Bartlett’s departure was by mutual agreement.

Bartlett’s exit comes three months after the deputy CAO in West Van, Mark Chan, also abruptly left his position. In the case of Chan, who has worked for the municipality for about 15 years, no announcement was made about his departure and Sager declined to discuss it.

Both Bartlett and Chan declined to comment about their exits from the municipality.

A third senior staffer, Mark Panneton, director of legislative services, is currently on leave from his job.

The allegations against Sager in the staff complaint have not been proven.

Sager declined to comment on the existence of any human resources investigation happening at the municipality. “I’m not going to comment on malicious rumours,” he said. “This is so inappropriate. It’s beyond belief.”

According to the municipality’s most recent Financial Information Act disclosures, Bartlett earned over $279,000 last year, while Chan earned over $232,000.

At a public council meeting Monday evening, Sager announced council has appointed Scott Findlay, a retired West Vancouver Police inspector who grew up in West Van and who has been manager of bylaws at the district for the past six months, as the new municipal manager. There was no recruitment process or search for a top administrator for the district.

Sager said Findlay had been appointed to a six-month contract “which gives him an opportunity to ensure he likes the role and that he is fitting in and performing, as we are confident he will.”

In an interview Tuesday, Sager said Findlay is well prepared for the role through many executive leadership roles during his career at the police department.

Council has opted to give Findlay the title municipal manager rather than CAO, because “It’s taking it back to the way things were when I was mayor before,” said Sager. “I think it just better suits our community.”

Sager said he’s heard overwhelming support for Findlay as council’s choice to head West Van’s public service.

“I think that when people recognize the outstanding talent we have in the municipality, and the truly outstanding individual who is assuming the leadership position of our staff, I think people will be thrilled,” he said.

Council was elected “to get things done at the municipality,” said Sager. “We were elected because there were problems. And it was well known. The majority of us … wanted to see things improved. And I think our new municipal manager is the right person at the right time to lead things forward.”

After news of the top staffers’ departures was made public, the union representing West Vancouver Blue Bus drivers and mechanics – which supported Sager in the last civic election – issued a statement supporting the mayor. 

Amalgamated Transit Union Local 134 spokesman Geoff Devlin said the union, which represents about 150 drivers and mechanics, supports Sager’s efforts to “improve labour relations” in the municipality. 

“We’re in support of the new municipal manager and the new mayor,” said Devlin, adding morale among employees the ATU represents has suffered in recent years. 

The West Vancouver Municipal Employees Association also welcomed Findlay in a joint statement with the bus drivers’ union. 

Catalin Fota, business manager for the employees association union that represents about 750 employees, said he is hopeful the change will improve the labour climate at West Vancouver’s municipal hall. 

“Communication with the previous CAO was very difficult,” he said. 

West Vancouver is not unique in seeing senior staffers fired or quit and replaced in the wake of a change in political direction at municipal hall. Lions Bay, for instance, has also experienced staff turnover since the last municipal elections.

Editor's note: This story has been amended since first posting to add comment from unions representing unionized municipal employees.