Sarnia’s mayor verbally harassed and engaged in psychological and supervisory abuse against four city employees and created a poisoned work environment, a workplace investigation report says.
The investigation, conducted by Mississauga human resources lawyer Lauren Bernardi, says Bradley “engaged in harassing, bullying, and abusive conduct” toward the four complainants, identified as City Manager Margaret Misek-Evans, Former Director of Parks and Recreation Beth Gignac, Former Director of Planning and Building Jane Cooper, and Former City Clerk Nancy Wright-Laking.
The 43-page report, released Friday, goes into detail with each of the staff members’ complaints. Some of the allegations reported by the four include verbal abuse, public chastisement and humiliation, unfair public and private criticism of performance and competence, open and excessive criticism and opposition to proposals, the use of pejorative terms, and ostracization from written and verbal communications. In one case, involving Misek-Evans, the mayor was said to have “used a personal incident involving her family members to harass and intimidate her,” according to the report.
In her report, which looked at over 70 different allegations and involved “volumes of documents and emails,” Bernardi concludes that Bradley “engaged in a course of vexatious comments and conduct which created a poisoned work environment for the complainants.”
“In other words, he harassed and bullied all four complainants. In fact, Mayor Bradley engaged in almost all of the different forms of harassment listed above, including verbal abuse, psychological abuse, supervisory abuse, relational aggression and character assassination.”
Bernardi says the harassment was not a matter of the complainants being unable to stand the pressures of their jobs, a question of a strong leadership style, or Bradley not understanding the boundaries of his role.
Wright-Laking resigned from the city last December, while Cooper and Gignac resigned from their positions in January and July of this year, respectively. Misek-Evans remains employed as the City Manager. Wright-Laking, Cooper, and Gignac are all quoted in the article as saying they resigned from their positions as a result of Bradley’s conduct.
Bernardi interviewed Bradley for the investigation, and said he acknowledged but tried to justify his behaviour, blamed the victims, or attempted to suggest his conduct was simply misperceived.
“During my interview of Mayor Bradley, he accused the complainants of colluding against him,” Bernardi writes. “By this, I understand him to mean that the complainants conspired together to manufacture or embellish complaints against the Mayor. I did not see any evidence of collusion between the complainants and found that their evidence was not only consistent, but was also supported by the documents and witnesses.”
Bernardi says while Bradley was “direct and composed” through most of his interview and answered all questions calmly, she found that he, on numerous occasions, gave answers that were inconsistent both internally and with that of other interviewed witnesses.
“In many cases, Mayor Bradley also seemed to lack self-awareness in terms of his behaviour and its impact and seemed to believe that his conduct was justified,” Bernardi writes. “He also rationalized his behaviour through considerable finger-pointing at the complainants.”
“Overall, I have no reason to doubt the credibility of the witnesses and generally found them to be open, honest, forthright and balanced in their presentation of the evidence.”
In a release Friday, acting city manager Andre Morin called Bradley’s behaviour “a serious multi-faceted violation of the Harassment Policy [of the Occupational Health & Safety Act] and is not supported by the City or in keeping with its values,” adding that two Special Closed Council meetings have been held to discuss the report and recommendations.
Morin says city staff has been directed to take certain unspecified steps and to provide several reports for a council meeting on Oct. 24, which will consider the implementation of recommendations stemming from the report’s findings.
Allegations from two of the complainants in Bernardi’s report, Wright-Laking and Cooper, were also probed by the city’s integrity commissioner under the Code of Conduct.
In his report, released in June, Robert Swayze said the two filed requests for an inquiry into Bradley’s conduct, alleging the Mayor had “created a poisonous work environment for them.”
After investigating the complaints, Swayze concluded that Bradley had violated several sections of the council’s Code of Conduct with his behaviour, and recommended his pay be suspended for the maximum amount of time permitted by the Municipal Act – 90 days.
“I took no pleasure in writing this report but feel that the mayor’s relationship with staff is damaging to the city and must be publicly disclosed and addressed,” Swayze wrote in his report.
Sarnia City Council received Swayze’s report at their Jun. 28 meeting, and voted to suspend Bradley’s pay for 90 days.
Bradley characterized Swayze’s report as biased and incomplete, calling it “a political-driven witch hunt by a number of members of council.”
Explaining the differences between the two investigations, Bernardi says Swayze’s mandate was to investigate the Mayor’s violations of the City’s Code of Conduct, while hers was to investigate alleged violations of Sarnia’s harassment policy and the Occupational Health and Safety Act.