White Rock County. files lawsuit against city over bullying allegations

White Rock County Erika Johanson is suing the city over what she claims are false allegations that she bullied and harassed staff.

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A White Rock councilwoman is suing the city for actions she took following what she says are false allegations that she bullied and harassed city staff.

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Com. Erika Johanson, who was elected to the council in 2018, says the dispute arose out of inquiries into budget matters she was conducting last year with the city’s chief financial officer.

She says that in response to those demands, in June 2021 she received an email from Guillermo Ferrero, the city’s chief executive, berating her for alleged bullying and harassment of city staff, and threatening to impose on her a sanction if the alleged conduct continues. .

On July 7, 2021, in response to an email sent by Johanson on the same date, Ferrero, the city’s most senior staffer, sent an email concluding that she had engaged in bullying. and harassment, says Johanson’s petition filed with BC Supreme. To research.

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Johanson, who denies the allegations and says no formal complaint has been filed against her, says she was told she would no longer be allowed to communicate with city staff when at the same time, other council members were permitted to continue to communicate directly with city staff.

“My reputation has been ruined on the board,” Johanson said Monday. “I am unable to do my job.”

The petition notes that prior to the dispute, the city had adopted a policy stipulating that communications involving the mayor, council and city staff should be directed through the city manager, but that at the time in question, the policy was not enforced.

Johanson’s motion, which names the City of White Rock as a defendant, seeks judicial review of Ferrero’s decision to order him to refrain from contacting city staff directly.

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“The City of White Rock has failed to act fairly in all circumstances in making a final administrative determination and imposing a penalty in the absence of procedural fairness and due process,” the petition states. “As a result, the petitioner was neither aware of the charges against her nor had an opportunity to respond to them. In doing so, the City of White Rock committed a reviewable error and breached the rules of fairness procedural and due process.

An affidavit filed by Johanson reveals increasingly tense email exchanges involving Johanson and Ferrero.

In a June 16 email to then-CFO Colleen Ponzini and C’ing Ferrero and council members, Johanson notes that she asked Ponzini if ​​the city had budgets. at the departmental level and Ponzini had answered in the affirmative. Johanson says she couldn’t find anything remotely resembling such budgets.

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“I understand your eagerness to get started on this and I can assure you that staff have heard your concerns,” responds Ferrero, who adds that these budgets are prepared by staff internally and have been provided to the board during the cycle. budget 2021 as top-level figures in the reports provided.

Johanson responds that she wants it to be “full clear” that there are no department budgets in a format the board can review.

In another email, she worries about a response she received from Ponzini, saying: “As a project manager during my career, I would be fired as soon as possible if I gave such a response.”

Shortly after, Ferrero said, “Your email is inappropriate and unacceptable, and I will schedule a meeting to discuss my concerns with you and the mayor (Darryl Walker) as soon as possible.”

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Ferrero said he had multiple discussions with Walker and the mayor indicated support for his approach.

Umar Sheikh, Johanson’s lawyer, said the case was “extremely unique” in that most BC councilors have very limited rights when it comes to actions against municipalities.

“She is certainly going through a lot of stress and doing her best to represent the citizens of White Rock,” he said of his client.

No response has yet been filed to the petition, which contains allegations that have not been tested in court.

Amanda Silvers, the city’s communications and government relations manager, said in an email that with the matter before the courts, there would be no comment.

Walker did not respond to an interview request.

kfraser@postmedia.com

twitter.com/keithrfraser


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