On Friday, city integrity commissioner Robert Swayze released an explosive report into his investigation of two complaints from former city clerk Nancy Wright-Laking and former planning director Jane Cooper.
Their complaints also touch on the mayor’s behaviour in respect to parks and recreation director Beth Gignac and city manager Marg Misek-Evans.
In their complaints, they chronicle examples of how Ontario’s second longest-serving mayor created a toxic work environment during their tenures at city hall.
In one incident, Wright-Laking reports she was called “incompetent” by the mayor in front of most of her office staff, according to the report. She later heard him refer to Misek-Evans as “the worst city manager we have ever had” in front of office staff after she failed to notify him of a death threat immediately, despite the police already being contacted about it.
Cooper, meanwhile, reported her own incidents of being professionally undermined at a public meeting and overhearing toxic remarks about other senior managers.
In one example, Cooper walked past the mayor’s office and overheard him call Gignac a “media hog.”
“The mayor’s comments toward me and other senior managers resulted in a poisonous and vexatious working environment in which he exerted undue influence in the work undertaken by me and staff,” she wrote in her complaint. “His actions and lack of respect, together with the failure of administration to address the issue was the primary reason I chose to leave.”
Both Wright-Laking and Cooper left their posts with the city earlier this year.
In his findings, Swayze said he believes Wright-Laking, Cooper and Misek-Evans did everything in their power to “placate the mayor and compromise,” so he has recommended the maximum suspension of the mayor’s salary.
“I took no pleasure in writing this report but feel that the mayor’s relationship with staff is damaging the city and must be publicly disclosed and addressed,” he wrote in his report.
“I have come to the conclusion that this mayor must change his ways for the good of the City of Sarnia. It has lost two very experienced senior managers and there may be more resignations arising from the incredibly bad workplace climate created by the mayor.”
Sarnia city council will decide whether to implement Swayze’s recommendation – a 90-day dock in pay – at a special Tuesday meeting set for 2 p.m.