By Trevor Busch
Preliminary information presented to town council by administration with an eye towards formulation of a whistleblower policy has been thoroughly attacked by Coun. Joe Strojwas.
At their Feb. 23 meeting, after researching several policy options, administration suggested using the City of Calgary’s policy as a template. Due to the lack of an internal city auditor (unlike Calgary) administration suggested using the police complaints director to serve as the party for receiving and investigating complaints.
For reporting incidents, administration suggested use of the Ducks Unlimited whistleblower form as a template. Administration also recommended that because Canadian Union of Public Employees (CUPE) members will use this policy, and represent a large component of the town’s workforce, consultation with CUPE for input prior to finalization of the policy would be prudent.
Strojwas immediately questioned administration’s recommendations, while suggesting the City of Brooks’ whistleblower policy was better suited to meet the needs of the community.
“It’s a simple document, it’s three pages long. Brooks is a community of 15,000. Calgary is a community of a million people with lots of problems, lots of issues,” said Strojwas. “I don’t think we really need to go that far and compare ourselves with that community. Even comparing ourselves to Lethbridge and the problems they have is beyond the scope for me. I think we need to compare ourselves to places like Brooks, Coaldale, Strathmore, smaller communities.”
In an abrasive exchange, Strojwas expressed frustration with administration’s lack of communication regarding the policy preparation, as well as its recommendation of a different policy template.
“I’m a little upset about this, because I originally brought this forward. Administration told me they would contact me so I could have some input into this. That didn’t happen. I really am taken aback that I wasn’t consulted. I was the push behind this, and I feel rather perturbed about this whole issue, and I’m really upset about it.”
CAO Greg Birch apologized to Strojwas over any perceived slight, while professing ignorance of the councillor’s desire to be involved in formulating the policy.
“I must have somehow missed that. I would have consulted you, if I thought you had wanted input.”
Coun. Jack Brewin threw his support behind Strojwas’ assessment, suggesting the City Of Calgary’s policy would have little in common with a community of Taber’s size.
“I also have looked over the Brooks one, and it covers basically all our needs in Taber. Coun. Strojwas brings up a pretty good point about not comparing ourselves to a big city like Calgary, with their issues. I’d be happy just to use the Brooks one.”
Coun. Laura Ross-Giroux pointed out that examining multiple municipal policies in an attempt to create a more effective document should hardly be considered a fault on the part of administration, while hinting that Strojwas’ concerns might carry a whiff of sour grapes.
“I think right now we’re just in the place where we’re formulating this policy, and like anything else, we need to look at all of the options available to us,” said Ross-Giroux. “Coun. Strojwas suggestions are certainly one option, but it’s good to have other options presented to us for decision. We can’t rule anything in, and we can’t rule anything out at this point. It all needs to be brought to council for examination.”
At their Jan. 12 meeting, town council had voted unanimously to direct administration to investigate options for creating a whistle blower policy for town employees and provide a policy recommendation to council.
Under a sample policy provided by Coun. Strojwas at that meeting, individual employees who witness “wrongdoing” within the organization could contact an impartial third party designated by the town to report concerns and allegations. This independent third party would then review the information provided and determine if further action might be warranted, and then refer any findings to a review committee which would determine a course of action.
An example review committee provided included as members the mayor, deputy mayor, previous deputy mayor, CAO, and the human resources manager.
“The policy that I did put together, that had recommendations as to how it should be administered,” said Strojwas at the Feb. 23 meeting. “It uses a professional organization to administer it. I don’t agree that we need the PCD (public complaints director) to administer this. They (independent third party) handle all of the complaints, and they don’t charge fees for their services unless there is an actual investigation or follow up.”
According to the sample policy submitted by Strojwas on Jan. 12, “wrongdoings” include violation of any federal, provincial or municipal act, regulation or bylaw; violation of town policies and procedures; dangerous practices likely to cause physical harm or damage to any person or property; failure to rectify or take responsible steps to report a matter likely to give rise to significant and avoidable cost or loss to the town; and improper or fraudulent accounting or auditing processes.
Any complaints, tips or issues received would be reviewed by an independent third party and assessed as valid or worthy of further action, or dismissed as frivolous, malicious, or petty.
At their Feb. 23 meeting, council voted unanimously to table a request for decision to a future meeting, giving administration the opportunity to examine the City of Brooks’ policy and to conduct a dialogue between administration and Coun. Strojwas.