Kippens mayor booted from her seat over controversial report of alleged harassment

·2 min read
The Town of Kippens, on Newfoundland's west coast, had its municipal election deferred while government investigated harassment complaints within town council.  (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)
The Town of Kippens, on Newfoundland's west coast, had its municipal election deferred while government investigated harassment complaints within town council. (Colleen Connors/CBC - image credit)

The mayor of a small Newfoundland town has been ousted from her job after a provincial investigation found her responsible for workplace harassment.

Debbie Brake-Patten was mayor of Kippens, on Newfoundland's west coast, until earlier this month, when a report from Municipalities N.L. sided with the complainant of a harassment allegation against her.

The report — heavily censored — alleges Brake-Patten continued her behaviour after the initial complaint and refused to apologize to the complainant, whose identity was not revealed.

Municipal Affairs Minister Krista Lynn Howell told CBC News the formal complaint involved a "serious allegation of bullying and harassment" within town council. Howell wouldn't say what type of harassment was reported, citing workplace privacy policies.

The Town of Kippens will elect a new council on Tuesday. Brake-Patten is barred from running for office for two years, however, and won't be on the ballot.

Graham Armour, a Kippens resident who supports Brake-Patten, takes umbrage with the Department of Municipal and Provincial Affairs' decision to remove the mayor, suggesting in an interview Wednesday that in doing so, the provincial government interfered with municipal democracy.

"It's the voters that decide, not some minister in St. John's," Armour said. "She didn't commit a crime. Where's the trial?"

Armour also suggested the entirety of the town hall should shoulder the blame, and CBC has received several emails from residents who say problems are pervasive throughout council.

"It's a dysfunctional council, a completely toxic workplace," said Armour. "And they're blaming all this on the mayor."

Children, Seniors and Social Development N.L./Twitter
Children, Seniors and Social Development N.L./Twitter

Howell didn't confirm receipt of any other harassment complaints from Kippens' town hall, but said the department would thoroughly investigate future reports.

"If it comes to our attention … then the same would apply to any situation of any allegations within this council," she said. "So if this is something that is ongoing and somebody else feels there's a need to be investigated otherwise, then we're not averse to that either."

Howell also said the department attempted mediation and training before Brake-Patten was removed.

"I do feel that there was adequate time for a change in behaviour," she said. "So our actions were warranted here."

Brake-Patten and the Kippens town council have declined to comment.

In an emailed statement, the Department of Municipalities said its decision to remove Brake-Patten was not made lightly.

"The conclusions and recommendations of that report are consistent with other actions that have been taken over the past number of years to try to address complaints and issues," the statement reads.

"It does reflect the seriousness of the situation.… Every employee, in any workplace, deserves the right to work in a safe and respectful environment, free of harassment or bullying behaviour."

The department also pointed to new legislation, introduced earlier this month, that requires municipalities to create their own codes of conduct to "deal with such issues quickly."

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