Nanaimo mayor calls for investigation after confidential email leaked

NANAIMO – E-mail written by Bill McKay expresses his personal opinions of other members of Nanaimo city council.

Mayor Bill McKay wants an investigation and plans to file a complaint with the B.C. Information and Privacy Commissioner after an internal e-mail detailing his opinions of councillors was leaked.

At a council meeting Monday, Nanaimo resident Tim McGrath handed council members an e-mail sent by the mayor to a facilitator with the Integrity Group, which McGrath claims was left in an envelope under his truck windshield wiper two weeks ago.

McKay sees the release of the e-mail as part of a smear campaign, done to defame him and for “political expediency” by members of council. It is considered a breach of privacy by the City of Nanaimo, which has reported it to the Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner.

The Integrity Group, hired by the mayor to help council address internal problems, began work last June. McKay said the facilitator asked him to provide a brief description through his eyes of members of council, his goals with respect to the work and outcomes, which the e-mail shows. It includes the mayor’s thoughts on the personalities and behaviors on each of the councillors, suggesting that one councillor is revered as a leader but is actually a follower and that another has mental health issues.

McKay is not concerned the e-mail puts him in a legal quandary because the comments were in a private and confidential document and he was fulfilling the request of the facilitator, but said it creates further turmoil. He wants an investigation into how it was released.

“The release of that information is intended to cause embarrassment, humiliation and is in fact defamatory,” said McKay. “In my opinion the release of the documents were intended to cause harm to my reputation.

The e-mail was of poor quality when McGrath first got it; he questioned if it was real, talked to friends and they suggested he should ask the mayor so he did, he said. McGrath does not know who gave him the e-mail, but said most people at city hall know there’s no love lost between him and the mayor.

Tracy Samra, chief administrative officer, said the city has “chronic problem” with documentation being leaked. It’s not the first instance and she doesn’t believe it will be the last, nor does she think it’s staff “releasing these things,” but she said that “controversial things, confidential things, things that smear people are being released” routinely in the community is  a problem and something needs to be done to stop it.

Coun. Ian Thorpe said when he had the chance to look at the document, he was disappointed at some of the things the mayor had written, but much more disappointed and concerned it had somehow been made public.

The facilitator was hired early on in the term in an attempt to improve working relationships between councillors and she interviewed them all, according to Thorpe, who said they expressed feelings and opinions about how things were going and it was made very clear it was to be confidential information. He wants to know how the e-mail got released and who is responsible.

Thorpe also said he’s disappointed because the release of the e-mail has taken council a “huge step” back in its relationships. He said everybody knows council has been struggling for most of the term with its relationships, which it has tried to improve, adding he believes it has and continues to try to move city business forward.

“But there are times when it just seems that personalities and personal relationships and conflicts get in the way and make that more difficult and this will certainly not help it,” he said. “It’s embarrassing I am sure to the mayor and I think its release was designed to embarrass him, but it’s embarrassing to all members of council and to our reputation as a council.”

Coun. Jim Kipp said his reaction to the e-mail was that it’s disturbing at the least and it shows a different light on the dialogue going on around dysfunction.

“This whole thing lacked integrity from the onset and it was somewhat defamatory not related to anything I would do on council, my council duties and I would say interference by false light,” he said, referring to the content.

Kipp said he is speaking with his lawyer. He believes the mayor has a right to an opinion of him, but shouldn’t spread it around. It doesn’t affect him, he said, because he doesn’t value McKay’s opinion but Kipp feels sorry for some of the other people who the mayor wrote about. He also says let’s not shoot the messenger.

“That’s the problem that this city has done too many times; shoot the messenger who brings this out instead of dealing with the issue as it stands,” he said.