Municipal investigator contradicts allegations in Norman Wells lawsuit

A management consultant who examined the Town of Norman Wells municipal government says a former senior administrative officer who is being sued by the town was a dedicated employee coping with a highly dysfunctional council.

John Hazenberg was hired by the territorial Department of Municipal and Community Affairs in 2017 to investigate the operations of the municipality. His report led to the firing of the mayor and council and appointment of a territorial administrator to run the town.

Referring to the then mayor and council in an affidavit filed earlier this month, Hazenberg said he had "never witnessed such animosity and lack of respect that some councillors had to each other, the SAO and the dignity of the council chamber. It was absolutely the worst I have ever seen…"

Led by a new mayor and council, the town is now suing a mayor and senior administrative officer who were in place back then. It's alleging that, without council approval, then-mayor Nathan Watson signed a new, more lucrative employment contract with then-SAO Catherine Mallon, a year after she was hired.

The lawsuit alleges that through the new contract, they defrauded the town of $1.26 million in illegitimate overtime, expense, salary and other payments.

The lawsuit is supported by an affidavit sworn by current SAO Cathy Clarke. Hazenberg said Clarke never asked him about Mallon, though he spent months studying the town's operations under her watch.

In his affidavit, Hazenberg said the allegations the town makes in its lawsuit are "entirely inconsistent with my personal observations of Ms. Mallon during my inspection and the results of my inspection."

Hazenberg's affidavit was filed in support of a motion by Mallon and Watson to lift a court-ordered freeze on their assets. That application is scheduled to be heard on Dec. 4.

Mallon was hired a month before Watson and his council took office. They were all acclaimed. Hazenberg said some of those councillors forged alliances with staff in an effort to undermine Mallon. He says the SAO worked long hours in an effort to make up for staffing vacancies in key positions at the town.

Hazenberg said the town may have even saved money as a result of salaries saved due to the vacancies. He said Mallon also managed to get an extra $1 to 2 million in funding for construction projects over and above what the town was entitled to.

In the application to lift the freeze on Mallon's and Watson's assets, Mallon's lawyer says the lawsuit has had a "devastating impact" on Mallon.

"The town has accused a professional administrator of the most serious breach of trust and quasi-criminal misconduct imaginable," said the lawyer.