2 Regina councillors should apologize for lawsuit against city manager: integrity commissioner

Regina's integrity commissioner is recommending that city council direct two councillors apologize to the city manager after filing a lawsuit against her office.  (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)
Regina's integrity commissioner is recommending that city council direct two councillors apologize to the city manager after filing a lawsuit against her office. (Kirk Fraser/CBC - image credit)

A report from Regina's integrity commissioner being presented to city council on Wednesday recommends that two city councillors write an apology to city manager Niki Anderson over a budget dispute around homelessness.

On Nov. 22, Coun. Dan LeBlanc, who is a lawyer, filed a lawsuit with the Court of Kings' Bench on behalf of Coun. Andrew Stevens and Florence Stratton, a well-known social activist, against the city manager's office.

The lawsuit directed Anderson to include an estimated $24.9 million in the proposed budget to end homelessness. It was dismissed on Dec. 14.

Angela Kruk, Regina's integrity commissioner, noted that the lawsuit was initiated against Anderson about three weeks after she started her role as city manager.

"While I accept that the respondents did not target Ms. Anderson personally, the lawsuit still had a considerable negative impact on her professionally and personally," Kruk wrote in the report.

"I know this, not only because I heard this directly from Ms. Anderson, but also because the lawsuit would have had a negative impact on any person in Ms. Anderson's position."

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

Ethics code violated

Kruk wrote that both Leblanc and Stevens violated the city's code of ethics bylaw during their lawsuit, but no evidence showed the councillors treated Anderson in a way that was not with dignity, understanding or respect.

"Not only was this lawsuit novel it was unorthodox and unnecessary," Kruk wrote in her report.

"The lawsuit makes city governance look dysfunctional."

Stevens said he and LeBlanc cared about putting homelessness into the budget more than decorum.

"There was no evidence or reason to believe that councillor LeBlanc and I bullied or harassed the city manager in accordance with that section of the code of ethics, and that's absolutely important to us," Stevens said on Monday.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

Stevens says the point of the lawsuit was not to disrespect Anderson.

"I think that's embedded in the integrity commissioner's report and that is fundamentally that councillor LeBlanc and I cared more about homelessness and putting homelessness in the budget," Stevens said.

"I'm sincerely sorry that there was any personal hardship that any of my council colleagues and the city manager confronted or experienced. That was never our intention."

Where did the lawsuit come from?

Last June, council unanimously voted to direct city administration to figure out how much it would cost to end homelessness in the city and have that "clearly demarcated in a line item of its own" in the city's proposed 2023 budget, according to meeting minutes published on the city's website.

According to the report, Leblanc told Anderson on Nov. 17 that if she did not include the funding for homelessness in the proposed draft budget, he would file a court application against her office.

"Coun. Leblanc acted for the applicants in the lawsuit, but so as not to minimize his involvement, I find that Coun. Leblanc was really the driving mind behind all of the strategy and analysis that went into the lawsuit," Kruk wrote.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

LeBlanc says he doesn't regret filing the lawsuit.

"It's too bad a complaint was filed about this and it's too bad it's substantiated about this because this is principally a political disagreement on an issue which Coun. Stevens and I ran on," Leblanc said on Monday.

"We weren't shy about telling our residents if we win, we're going to fight this on the intersecting issues of homelessness, poverty and addiction and that's what we did."

Leblanc added that if city council wants him to write an apology, they should draft it because he doesn't think they'll accept what he comes up with.

What will reprimands look like? 

On Dec. 7 Regina City Council voted unanimously affirming its confidence in Anderson and expressing disappointment over the negative impact the lawsuit had created on council's operational integrity and oversight.

Leblanc and Stevens declared a conflict of interest and did not participate in the vote.

The integrity commissioner determined the council's vote expressing its disappointment in the lawsuit as a sufficient reprimand for Stevens and LeBlanc.

Stevens said he respects the reprimand and will apologize if council directs him to.

"I'm not going to give what I would call an Experience Regina apology, which is sorry not so sorry," Stevens said.

"I'll write an apology or I'll write a letter that I think is sincere in my beliefs and make clear what I'm actually sympathetic for."

Stevens asked to write another apology

Stevens is the subject of a different complaint in the integrity commissioner's report.

Alexander Quon/CBC
Alexander Quon/CBC

Coun. Terina Nelson alleged that Stevens broke confidentiality provisions after he circulated a confidential complaint from the integrity commissioner to other members of council and city administration in July.

Randy Langgard, the alternate integrity commissioner appointed for the complaint, recommends that Stevens be censured or reprimanded by city council for disclosing the report and that he writes an apology to Nelson to settle the matter.

Stevens says sharing the complaint was an accident and he apologized to Nelson at the time of the complaint being circulated.

"She sat on it and waited and I believe this is just a form of political retribution," Stevens said.

"My apology, if it's rendered, will be to my council colleagues and the public because this is a complete waste of time."