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Kirk LaPointe: Public should be told result of complaint against West Van mayor

An independent investigation into accusations of harassment and bullying by Mayor Mark Sager has been completed, but the public won't likely find out what's in it, writes Kirk LaPointe
West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager addresses members of the West Vancouver Chamber of Commerce at an event earlir this year. | Brent Richter / North Shore News

The independent investigation into accusations of harassment and bullying of district staff by West Vancouver Mayor Mark Sager has been completed and delivered to council.

It is in the public interest for the report to be publicly disclosed, but it won’t be.

It is also in the public interest for WorkSafe BC to be conducting its own investigation, but it also won’t be.

Power has a way of insulating itself when disclosure would be threatening or uncomfortable, and West Vancouver’s mayor and council are acting no differently in their recent treatment of a pushback from senior staff.

Earlier this month six councillors, but not Sager, were provided printed copies of the report. The reports were not electronically provided for a reason: they weren’t keepsakes. Councillors were required to return them so they could not share them.

The investigation was prompted by a single complaint but, like most such probes, expanded to examine statements the complainant provided about episodes involving other public servants. Along the way, three sources told me, the complainant was interrogated by police, a highly unusual move that certainly would chill municipal officials from sharing information.

The six councillors have discussed the report in closed-door meetings without the mayor present. (The report does chronicle another councillor’s behaviour but that hasn’t stopped that councillor from participating.) It would be fair to say that with the mayor’s alliances on council it is doubtful he doesn’t know what’s taking place in its deliberations on what it should say or do.

Not that there is much it can do. Provincial law intersecting with this issue is weak.

In the resolution of some cases I’ve known about over the years, bosses are restricted from meeting employees unless there is a third party in the room. Won’t happen here. About the strongest council gesture would be censure, but even that would be quite the move given that the majority of the council was on Sager’s campaign slate only a year ago.

Most likely what will happen is that the complainant – who hasn’t seen the report, in fact – will be offered a severance package that includes a non-disclosure agreement and everyone will just attempt to move on.

One would think this is fertile ground for WorkSafe BC, but its legislation and regulation do not provide an obvious opportunity to investigate on its own. The employer or employee involved have to ask for one when there are issues of mental, as opposed to physical, health concerned.

In this case, the district as the employer is not going to WorkSafe BC – the priority inside municipal hall is to hold the line so as to make the district legally safe. The employee won’t be going to WorkSafe BC, either, because the district will be protecting itself with the severance package.

The public should know the report’s findings and hear from the mayor about it. It’s not only about taxpayers’ money with the severances and legal bills. It’s that we are entitled to know how the mayor comports himself with staff. If there’s no story here, show us; if there is, tell us how things will change.

On the same general topic: whatever happened to our fire and rescue chief? Dave Clark was scheduled to retire next April. But a couple of months ago he went on holidays and didn’t return to the job, surprising his team.

When fire or police chiefs retire, there’s usually fanfare, appreciative statements at council, and an appropriately ceremonial send-off. In this case, there was simply a perfunctory note that he’d taken early retirement. And that was it.

• • •

Now, if you’re going to chronicle others’ errors, you have to admit your own. In my last column on the district’s five-year capital plan, I cited an expense of $476,000 in managing the parks, culture and community services. In fact, the expense was revenue. It didn’t change the column’s overall conclusion on district finances, but I regret to say I misread and misstated that element.

Two other matters: I cited a $600,000 increase in costs for pier repairs; true, but elsewhere in the document it was explained that it is an insurance rebate. And the mayor’s pet project of an outdoor fitness centre in Ambleside, I have since learned from the district, is the beneficiary of a $125,000 donation from Larco and a GoFundMe drive, so the cost to taxpayers will be mitigated.

Kirk LaPointe is publisher and executive editor of Business in Vancouver as well as vice-president, editorial, Glacier Media Group, the North Shore News’ parent company. He is also a West Vancouverite.