Information Commissioner to investigate North Cowichan refusal to release Joyce Behnsen conduct report
Kate Marsh cites “need for consistency on handling breaches of Standards of Conduct Policy’
The Office of the Information and Privacy Commissioner of BC will investigate North Cowichan’s refusal to release the report of a conduct complaint involving former councillor Joyce Behnsen.
The Municipality won’t publicly release the Behnsen report involving a municipal employee even though it released a May 2022 standards-of-conduct complaint involving an email from Councillor Kate Marsh related to Mayor Al Siebring. (https://bit.ly/3xMS4ZL) The Marsh report was also debated in open council.
Ted Swabey, Chief Administrative Officer for North Cowichan, said: “The difference was because the Joyce Behnsen case involved personnel issues which are permitted to be dealt with in closed meetings.”
sixmountains.ca appealed to the Information Commissioner, arguing the Behnsen report should be released in the public interest, while protecting the identity of the employee.
Terri Brennan, Executive Assistant at North Cowichan, added that “if a decision is made to release further information, you will be advised.”
The Information Commissioner’s office says it could take months for the investigation to be concluded due to backlogs.
The Municipality also refuses to say how much the Marsh investigation cost taxpayers, citing solicitor-client privilege.
Behnsen was serving as a councillor in 2017 when disciplined by council. Details of the investigation were never made public.
Then-Mayor Jon Lefebure said in a statement that the investigation followed complaints from an employee who claimed to have been bullied and harassed by Behnsen.
“Councillor Behnsen was given the opportunity to respond, but she rejected it,” Lefebure said. “Corrective measures have been imposed.”
Behnsen finished last by more than 1,100 votes in the 2018 mayoral race and is now running for one of six councillor seats in the Oct. 15 municipal election.
Marsh finished second among all candidates for council in 2018 and is seeking re-election.
Marsh issued the followed statement Friday: “There is definitely, in my opinion, a need for consistency on handling breaches of Standards of Conduct Policy. The Community Charter is not clear on the open/closed meeting rule in regards to elected officials’ complaints between each other.
“The attempt to protect both my privacy and that of a local body in the complaint against me, failed. An opportunity to get some case law on the matter of open/closed reporting on conduct issues between elected officials was lost.
“An Independent Investigator’s report was publicly discussed in an open meeting June 1st, ahead of the mutually agreed upon date of June 13th, for the continuance of the hearing seeking a ruling on the propriety of tabling the report in an open meeting.
“The importance of Community Charter clarity or case law, in its absence, cannot in my mind, be overstated.”
Behnsen said: “In 2017, a conduct complaint was filed against me. The Municipality did not release the report to the public, as it involved a municipal employee. For that reason, I was advised not to respond to then-Mayor Jon Lefebure’s comments, and I will not be commenting on the incident report at this time.”
Council has asked staff to report back on ways to improve the standards-of-conduct policy. The current policy also only allows staff and elected officials to file complaints — not the public. https://bit.ly/3UxGV8W
The following website provides links to election campaign platforms, including how candidates can be reached: https://bit.ly/3eExhko .
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(Photos: top, Joyce Behnsen; lower, Kate Marsh)
— Larry Pynn, Sept. 24, 2022