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A call for TNRD board chair Ken Gillis to resign

On Jan. 29, 2020, a senior regional district manager sent a long letter to TNRD board chair Ken Gillis, detailing numerous allegations against then-CAO Sukh Gill. The letter was never shared with the board. Two weeks later, Gill departed the TNRD with a severance package in excess of $500,000. TNRD director Sally Watson is now calling for Gillis to step down
Gillis Watson front

A Thompson-Nicola Regional District director is calling for board chair Ken Gillis to step down after it was learned a letter sent to him by a whistleblower — a senior TNRD manager who detailed allegations against former TNRD CAO Sukh Gill — was not shared with the TNRD board.

The letter was sent to Gillis on Jan. 29, 2020, just two weeks prior to Gill’s sudden departure from the regional district in mid-February, with a board-approved $520,000 severance package.

A legal agreement between Gill and the TNRD mandated his departure be called a “retirement,” but the regional district has not, to date, explained why Gill is no longer the CAO of the organization.

The TNRD has said Gill’s departure was not connected to issues raised by KTW’s investigation of spending at the regional district under Gill.

The 12-page letter to Gillis was obtained by KTW and was referenced in the BDO Canada forensic audit report released this week by the TNRD.

BDO Canada was hired last year by the TNRD to undertake a forensic audit of its finances as a result of a KTW investigation that detailed spending by Gill as head of the regional district between 2015 and 2020.

The contents of the letter include various allegations, many of which have been reported on previously by KTW, including financial concerns that are now the subject of an RCMP investigation and questions about the awarding of contracts.

Last week’s public TNRD board meeting ended abruptly following a comment by Area E (Bonaparte Plateau) director Sally Watson about letters being shredded at the board chair level.

Watson said that, due to the detailed nature of the letter, complete with dates and additional resources to corroborate claims, the letter could have been used as a launch point for dismissal of Gill with cause.

“If the board had known about this letter before the payout was decided, it is very, very likely that it would not have been a payout,” Watson said.

“It would have been a justifiable dismissal.”

Watson told KTW the board did not see the letter until just before Christmas in 2021 — meaning the board was not aware of the letter prior to Gill leaving the regional district with a severance package.

Former interim TNRD CAO Randy Diehl, who began at the regional district shortly after Gill’s departure in February 2020, told KTW he never saw the letter.

On May 6, 2020, KTW filed a Freedom of Information and Privacy Protection Act request to the regional district for documents linked to bullying and harassment complaints in the previous five years.

The letter was not included in the package of documents received by this newspaper. The letter was not included in the package of documents received by KTW despite the letter containing an entire section beneath a heading of “bullying and harassment” and more than a page of related allegations to follow.

TNRD manager of corporate and legislative services Deanna Campbell said the document was not found.

“We wouldn’t have found it,” she said when asked why KTW’s FOI request did not result in obtaining the letter. “In our search of records, that wasn’t saved in any files or our records.”

Campbell said she does not know what would have been done with any letter sent to Gillis, noting he is not required to give such documents to staff. Campbell said it comes down to judgment.

As for potential legal ramifications of destroying such documents, Campbell said “intent” behind destruction could result in penalties.

“If there’s a request and you’re purposely deleting something or trying to triple-delete an email in response to a request or knowing its going to get requested, then that’s one thing,” Campbell said.

“If you can prove someone intended to do that, then I think that comes with penalties. There could be documents that other staff members and board members have deleted that may get requested five years from now, but we don’t have them anymore because it wasn’t intentionally destroyed — it was just people were cleaning out their emails and getting rid of their files.”

The TNRD implemented a whistleblower policy in the fall of 2020, recommending complaints about the CAO should go to the board chair. However, no direction for the chair to address the complaint is provided in the policy.

“There’s nothing to say that the chair has to bring it to the board and I think that’s probably the case because I think it’s just going to vary among local governments and among councils and boards as to how a mayor or chair decides to handle that,” Campbell said.

Gillis was asked to explain why the letter did not go to the board.

“I’m not going to explain,” Gillis told KTW. “I’m not going to say that I kept any letter from the board and I’m not going to explain and I’m not going to comment.”

Gillis was asked who saw the letter and why the board didn’t see the letter, when the board is ultimately responsibility for decision-making, including the fate of former CAO Gill. Gillis declined to answer.

He was asked if the board knew about the letter and its detailed allegations and whether a board review of the letter could have saved the regional district from paying severance.

“I appreciate that you have to ask these questions and I’m not commenting on this letter or any letter,” Gillis said.

“Because at this point, anything that was related to that is in-camera material and I do not discuss things that are in camera. I’m just saying that anything that I had to do with it was confidential and it remains confidential.”