City council is waiting for outside legal advice before removing any of the sanctions the previous council imposed on Mayor Mike Bradley.
Councillors Bill Dennis Jr. and David Boushy have called for restrictions prohibiting the mayor from speaking directly to staff or accessing City Hall after hours be lifted. They also want a wall erected to separate the mayor’s office from staff taken down.
Councillors voted 5-3 on Feb. 11 to defer the requests, pending outside legal counsel and to hear how city employees feel about it.
“I think it’s better to get a strong legal opinion, to come back and tell us what we can do and can’t do, and how best to move forward,” said Coun. Terry Burrell, who suggested the idea.
Coun. Brian White, who also asked for staffs’ opinion, backed the deferral, as did councillors Nathan Colquhoun, Mike Stark and George Vandenberg.
Dennis, Boushy and Coun. Margaret Bird voted against the delay.
Two separate, third-party investigations in 2016 determined Mayor Bradley bullied and harassed several senior female administrators who have since left City Hall, including former CAO Margaret Misek Evans.
The previous council said it had to act to protect staff or risk being held personally liable and sued should another incident involving the mayor occur.
The sanctions imposed include limiting the mayor’s City Hall access to work hours, installing surveillance cameras, requiring an intermediary when speaking to the CAO, and rescinding a 1992 directive that had allowed the mayor to attend department head meetings.
“How can he possibly do his job properly if he can’t interact with his staff?” Coun. Dennis asked after the meeting.
“We’re in the process of hiring a new CAO, and he can’t technically talk with that new person?”
Dennis also accused the five councillors who voted to wait of taking “the cowards way out.”
“I have access to lots of lawyers and these sanctions are illegal, they really are,” he said. “We have criminals that have done far worse that aren’t treated like this. This is ludicrous.”
Sarnia human resources manager Jim Crawford said an outside law firm the city uses will be asked for an opinion.
The position of city solicitor is currently unfilled. Scott McEachran was one of four senior managers who announced in December they were leaving.
A four-member health and safety committee representing workers and managers will also provide input, Crawford said.
A report to council is expected on March 4.
Mayor Bradley and the eight councillors completed mandatory harassment and respectful workplace training on Feb. 4.
Coun. Nathan Colquhoun said the facilitator told them failing to provide a safe workplace could bring lawsuits of up to $1.5 million per incident.
“It’s common sense to take precaution when we are speaking of that much money,” Colquhoun said.
Coun. Dennis suggested Bradley could take legal action against the city if the sanctions aren’t lifted.
“Don’t be surprised if that’s the case,” he said.
Boushy also wants the two workplace investigation reports removed from the city’s website.