By Marianne Curtis
The Ombudsman may have completed one investigation into the actions of the RM of La Broquerie council but they have also launched another. On August 11 council was officially informed that an investigation has been launched into its actions under the Freedom of Information and Protection Act (FIPPA).
When council met for their regularly scheduled meeting at the beginning of August, they were forced to go into camera to discuss “ombudsman issues”. When council came out of camera it passed a resolution to respond to a letter from the Ombudsman dated August 6.
While the Ombudsman office can not discuss matters under investigation, a letter obtained by the Dawson Trail Dispatch confirms that two new cases have been opened under FIPPA. The cases stem from allegations that Reeve Marielle Wiebe collected personal information on a former employee and used that information publicly.
Former administrator Lori Wood confirmed that she made the complaint after private employment information was obtained by the municipality and allegedly released to the public without her knowledge.
The accusation stems from a radio broadcast that was aired on a Steinbach radio station back in May. In the broadcast four of Wood’s former employers were interviewed and the piece attacked her credibility. The radio station was included in the complaint but the Ombudsman does not investigate privately owned corporations.
“The radio station did not contact me at all,” stated Wood. “The way they set up the sound bites to air was very unprofessional and it shows a lack of integrity by all those involved.”
While FIPPA cannot investigate the radio station, they are investigating the reeve and looking into the municipality’s role in how the media received private information. In her complaint, Wood alleges that the reeve obtained an employment contract from the District of Stewart in BC without her knowledge and leaked it to the media.
“I discovered that my personal employment information was obtained by the reeve without my knowledge, and it was then shared with local media in a slanderous way,” explained Wood. “Unfortunately for the Reeve, the employment contract from Stewart also made its way to another individual who saw it. Neither the reeve nor the public should have had access to that information nor was there any reason for her to have it.”
Three other former employers were also contacted without her knowledge or permission and the information was used “in a malicious manner”, accuses the complainant.
Allegations of conflict of interest have arisen based on how the municipality is handling this investigation. According to the minutes, Wiebe was at the meeting, but not as chairperson. They also show that after coming out of the in-camera session, two resolutions were put on the table. A recorded vote was taken on one and as reeve, Wiebe voted. Council then voted to respond to the ombudsman while, according to council minutes, Wiebe remained in her seat as reeve. The minutes do not reflect if Wiebe voted on the matter.
The Municipal Act states that if a councilor or reeve is in conflict of interest they must remove themselves from the table and not participate in the discussion. When an issue involves a matter to be discussed in camera, the conflicted person must remove themselves from the chambers completely.
A reliable source confirmed that Wiebe arrived at the meeting in the afternoon but did not assume her seat as reeve until after the in-camera session. However, she did not leave chambers during the closed door discussion.
Two months ago a similar situation arose when council dealt with an investigation launched into allegations against councilor Ed Oswald. He was told that it was in his best interest to leave chambers while the matter was discussed, despite his attempts to stay and participate.
The RM of La Broquerie has a designated officer to deal with matters pertaining to FIPPA and the municipality. This person’s duties include viewing and signing off on information requests made by all parties, including ratepayers. Wiebe is the acting designated officer for the municipality.