Sechelt Coun. Alice Lutes forewarned a senior staffer he might get turfed, which was deemed a breach of confidentiality and led to her dismissal from committee appointments, council disclosed Wednesday night.
Documents detailing the breach and lawyers’ opinions about the issue were released to the public after a special in-camera meeting was held Nov. 28.
Lawyers for the District and Lutes had to come to an agreement on what would be made public, and council had to formally make a motion to do so before the information could be released.
The redacted personal emails detailing the conversations between Lutes and the unnamed senior staff person say things like “watch your back,” and “I will stand beside you” in response to an email to Lutes that said, “I see John has requested a copy of my signed contract. Do you think he is proposing to get rid of me?”
The information Lutes was giving to the senior staffer was discussed in-camera, and should not have been shared.
“The substantive issue is that Councillor Lutes admits she knowingly breached her duties and responsibilities as a councillor. This is a violation of her oath of office and of the community charter. In response, council as a whole determined the course of action they felt was appropriate,” said Mayor John Henderson.
Lutes accepts she may have done something wrong, but she doesn’t feel the punishment fits the crime.
“I accept that the municipal solicitors found that I disclosed confidential information considered at an in-camera meeting in emails to a then senior employee, but I encourage everyone to read those emails for themselves and see exactly what I am accused of disclosing,” Lutes said.
“At a time when it was common knowledge at city hall that Mayor Henderson was looking to get rid of the senior employee, and had already asked him for copies of his employment contract and performance review, I told him to watch his back and that the mayor had the votes to do it. That is all I am accused of doing and, although I now regret doing so, I don’t believe that I deserve to be stripped of all my responsibilities and appointments on committees.”
Henderson said the punishment could have been worse.
“Council did not opt for the harshest punishment. This conduct is a breach of section 117 of the community charter and a breach of the oath of office. Council could have referred this to the RCMP, and the RCMP could have sought a prosecution under the offence act,” Henderson said. “Council did not go that far. In any event, council has the option of reinstating her or appointing her to other entities in the future.”
Investigation into Lutes’ misconduct started months ago when Henderson first became aware of an email she had sent. With the email in his possession, Henderson contacted the law office of Lawson Lundell.
“As mayor, I asked them to investigate, because I have an obligation to take action when I discover a breach,” Henderson said, pointing to a judge’s ruling in the Skakun versus Prince George case that said as much.
“They came across the other breaches of confidentiality by conducting a simple search of email messages on the District of Sechelt’s email server that were sent or received by Coun. Lutes.”
After receiving legal opinion from Lawson Lundell on Oct. 15, Henderson asked for another legal opinion from Lidstone & Company. That opinion was presented on Oct. 29. Both legal firms stated council had grounds to censure Lutes and that council could consider removing her from appointments and committees as well.
“I believe the mayor used this investigation as a political tool to silence one of his only opponents on council,” Lutes said. “The public should know that in the very same email exchange in which I warned the senior employee to watch his back, I also expressed my concern that I too was in the mayor’s crosshairs. For reasons unknown to me, this information has been redacted from the copy of the emails disclosed to the public.”
Henderson said he is unsure why that line was redacted from the emails released and feels he is actually being targeted by Lutes.
“I have no idea why she would say this. It actually feels as though I am in her crosshairs, despite it being council as a whole that made the decision,” he said.
In reference to silencing Lutes, Henderson noted, “The actions taken by council do not ‘silence’ her — she continues as a member of council entitled to speak on all issues. Her claim discredits council and appears to be an effort to distract attention from the key issue — that she knowingly breached her oath of office.”
The released in-camera minutes show that everyone but Coun. Mike Shanks voted in favour of pulling Lutes from her committee and regional district appointments.
To view the documents released by the District of Sechelt go to www.sechelt.ca/
Henderson said council intends to release the full cost of legal fees incurred in the coming weeks, after all the invoices have been received.