April 16th, 2024

City releases report into Clark complaint

By COLLIN GALLANT on March 27, 2024.

Mayor Linnsie Clark attends council's committee of the whole meeting at city hall Monday evening.--NEWS PHOTO BRENDAN MILLER

cgallant@medicinehatnews.com@CollinGallant

A third-party investigation into a complaint that Mayor Linnsie Clark mistreated city manager Ann Mitchell at a council meeting last summer doesn’t name either, nor complainant Coun. Shila Sharps, in a redacted version released Tuesday.

But it does put into words the concerns of the two city council members, neither of whom have yet to discuss the issue publicly.

Clark has scheduled a press conference for this morning in Medicine Hat to discuss legal options after council found she failed to use proper respect when questioning Mitchell about a corporate reorganization on Aug. 21.

That was cited in a council decision last week that by a 7-0 count removed Clark’s ability to chair council meetings, interact with staff and reduces her pay by half, equaling $77,000 per year.

The 36-page report, released late Tuesday by the city clerk’s office, stated the investigator from Edmonton-area law firm Kingsgate Legal, substantiated the claim that Clark “maliciously (injured) the professional or ethical reputation of the city manager during their exchange.”

A second part of the complaint that the mayor privately obtained a legal opinion and presented it to council in public was unsubstantiated.

Two written submissions submitted by the parties at the end of the investigation, which mostly concluded in November, were not released.

Through large sections of blacked-out text, a reader can determine the complainant as Sharps – both her and Clark were not in council, deliberated or voted.

Within condensed versions of interviews with both, each lays out their case.

Clark told the investigator she felt compelled to voice concerns that the top administrator acted before council had officially endorsed corporate reorganization with a motion in a public meeting.

Staff was fatigued from previous job losses, she said, and she wanted processes to be upheld.

“Obviously (a reorganization) is based on the advice of the city manager, administration and legal (department), but it was council’s decision to make,” said Clark, citing public mistrust as a problem for the previous council term.

Sharps said the plan was six months in the making, that council was well-informed, and Clark should have held most vocal criticism out of the public meeting.

“Even if every word of what the mayor says is true, it should have been said in private as a confidential personnel matter,” Sharps told the investigator.

“The idea that the city manager failed to inform council is simply not true: we knew what the city manager was doing. Council said thanks, yes, that sounds good.”

Sharps said she attempted to meet with Clark the day after the Aug. 21 meeting – during which she stepped in with a point of order to essentially stop debate. Other councillors moved the issue to a vote, where it passed, then called a recess.

Clark said she brought up the issue in person with Mitchell and again at a July 4 meeting, but her concerns apparently were not addressed. She reintroduced them in open council in August because she wanted to “understand the risks” of terminated employees, challenging the bylaw process.

“The layoffs had already occurred and no one else on council seemed to really be interested in what I believe is doing our job,” she said, later adding, “The public needs to believe the municipality has integrity.”

The Ministry of Municipal Affairs has told the News it is aware of the local situation, but it states it nor the minister has any roll in adjudicating disputes.

The findings of the report could be appealed to Court of King’s Bench, an avenue open to all legislative disputes.

According to the City of Medicine Hat’s council code of conduct rules, any member of council facing a complaint is allowed the right to independent legal counsel during the complaint process of the municipality, paid for by the individual. It appears neither party engaged legal counsel.

The respondent must also be afforded an opportunity to respond to the complaint and the report of an investigator before deliberations on the validity of the complaint or potential sanctions begin.

Written submissions from both council members were submitted but not included in the report released on Tuesday.

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