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City issues a second banning notice - tougher than the first one and using the flimsiest of evidence

SwP thumbnail graphicBy Pepper Parr

October 15th, 2018

BURLINGTON, ON

Part 4 of a series

Let’s review the facts we have so far.

In the fall of 2016, the city administration claims there were complaints about my behavior with female staff at city hall.

They do not ask me to come into city hall and discuss that behavior.

They hire an independent investigator who interviews some people. I have no idea who those people are.

I am not interviewed. A report is prepared and presented to city council in a Closed Session believed to have taken place between August 25th and November 16th, 2016.

James Ridge

Burlington city manager James Ridge now in the fourth year of a five year contract.

On November 17th of 2016 James Ridge City manager asks to meet with me. I assume there is going to be an interview. When I inquire as to what we will be discussing Ridge doesn’t say. He then sends me a letter via email which set out and advises me that the city is using the Trespass Act to prevent me from entering city hall or Sims Square.  If I want to enter city hall I must be escorted by security personnel.

I am apparently allowed to enter other city buildings, the Transit offices, the Roads and Park Maintenance office.  I choose not to enter any city premises.  The details of this first ban are set out in part 3 of this series.

There is more detail on part 3 of this series – the link to that is at the bottom of this article

I meet with an individual who has served in municipal administrations in very senior positions and asked what he would have done if he had faced this kind of a situation that involved me. The response was: We would have met with you, described the behavior and cautioned you.  I meet with this person, someone I have known for more than a decade, on a number of occasions.

It takes a full year for all this to play itself out.

The first banning was for a period of a year after which it was to be reviewed. That review would have been sometime after November 20th 2017

mary-lou-tanner-city-hs

Mary Lou Tanner came to Burlington as the Director of Planning and promoted to Deputy city manager sometime later.

In July of 2017 I take part in a walking tour of John Street with City planner Mary Lou Tanner and staff planner Charles Mulay. The tour lasted about an hour. The conversation was amiable; I learn how planners take a longer look at a part of the city that is undergoing change.

The story on that tour is published in the Gazette on  July 17th.

The Grow Bold Plan the Planning department has released in being discussed publicly – there are numerous city sponsored meetings. I am in touch with planning staff by telephone continually for follow up questions.

Bustamenta - centre ice

Planning department staff at a public meeting.

Some of the staff appear to be uncomfortable with what they can tell me. On a few occasions staff suggest I clear the request with Tanner.

Tanner and I come to an agreement that I will ask my questions of staff electronically and copy Tanner on all the requests for information.

I was beginning to feel that the city really just wanted to restrict my access to information that any journalist is entitled to. The role of a journalist is to ask questions.

On October 30th 2017,  the date is critical – it is the day before Halloween. I send Mary Lou Tanner an email – when she can be available for a phone call. I get one of those “out of the office” responses.

Tanners out of office notice

Later that same evening of October 30th, 2017 at 6:47 pm I send Tanner a note. At the bottom of the note there is an emoji, which in my world signifies that the contents are meant to be funny.

The pre Haloween email

The wording of that email is quite small – It said; “I have had developers tell me that you are using the time off to prepare you witch costume and broom for Tuesday night. Any comment – for attribution?  The spelling error was mine.

On November 20th, there is a response from the city manager. Portion of that letter appear below.  The complete letter is appended at the bottom of this article.

Despite the actions taken by the City, those actions appear to have been ineffective in preventing your further harassment of female staff. On the 30th of October this year, I was contacted by the Director of Planning and Building, Ms. Tanner, who provided me with a copy of an e-mail that you had sent to her that was both offensive and misogynistic in nature. Ms.

Tanner was very disturbed by your action in this regard. The City simply cannot and will not permit you to continue to harass our staff and in particular our female staff.

As a direct result of your actions, I have decided that the restrictions placed on your access to City Hall functions and contact with staff pursuant to the Trespass to Property Act as set out in my September 8, 2016 correspondence will continue indefinitely with two modifications as highlighted below.

This second banning is indefinite which I did not believe the city had the right to do.

I kept the correspondence from the city to myself and the small group of advisors I had put together.  When Councillor Lancaster posted a comment on the Facebook Burlington News in September that I had been banned from city hall I decided it was time for me to tell my story and to make the letters from the city public.

The Lancaster comments are set out in part 2 of this series.  I filed a formal complaint with the Integrity Commissioner because I believe Lancaster published information she got from a Closed Session of city council

I had already engaged a new lawyer who wrote the city. I had to borrow the $5000 retainer the lawyer required. His hourly rate was more than my disposable income for a month.

When the first banning notice was put in place I struggled to figure out what it was I had done to merit the action the city manager had taken.  I had done nothing.

When I was given the second banning notice in November of 2017 – this one was for an indefinite term, I finally had some evidence.  An email – sent as a humorous Halloween joke was all the city had.  They decided to define it as misogynistic and sexual harassment.  It was nothing of the kind.  The city manager was going to use whatever pretense he could come up with to keep me out of city hall and away from staff.

The letter the new lawyers had sent to the city manager got a response; things begin to change; city hall suggested we meet.

More on that change in tone at city hall in the next installment.

Part 1 of a series

Part 2 of a series

Part 3 of the series.

Next: Part 5 of a series – final part.

Apology to Mary Lou Tanner

Complete November 20th, 2017 letter

Salt with Pepper are the opinions, reflections, observations and musings of the Gazette publisher.

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4 comments to City issues a second banning notice – tougher than the first one and using the flimsiest of evidence

  • D Walker

    I have to agree that the comment is easily misinterpreted and therefore in poor taste. The problem with text is that it is so easy to apply a tone that was not intended. I am able to both read your email in a humourous and light-hearted tone and also a somewhat rude/critical tone. As I’ve had to learn in the past year, sometimes light-hearted teasing can be misconstrued even by friends/family, so oftentimes it is about knowing your audience.

    If you had previously had humourous and teasing banter (back AND forth) with Ms. Tanner, then I wouldn’t see the problem. If it was only ever one-sided, then there might be a problem. Ultimately only you and she can comment on that being a facet of your relationship. I think it is important to acknowledge that Ms. Tanner may have experienced gendered name-calling before in her profession (not necessarily from you) and is therefore less tolerant of any whiff of it (hint: witch is not a positive descriptor for any woman).

    Regardless, I still don’t think it warrants a total ban, and I think your apology is easily read as genuine. From what you’ve shown us, it is not clear that the City Manager is fond of providing explicit examples of wrong-doing and allowing an individual the opportunity to correct them. Had he been forthcoming with the initial letter/ban about what behaviour was at issue, perhaps this second issue could have all been avoided. I kind of get the feeling he was waiting for you to misstep in any small way so he could reinforce the ban.

  • SteveW

    The city’s reasoning for your ban is baseless. Sure your email perhaps (emphasis on perhaps) was in poor taste but it is funny and not harassing in anyway. I hope your efforts with the integrity commissioner are successful.