Mayor Matt Brown releases statement following city hall harassment scandal

  Following a tumultuous couple of days at city hall, facing numerous harassment allegations involving several departments, London's mayor is speaking out.

On Monday, council held a special in-camera meeting to discuss “personal matters.”

After the meeting, London city manager Martin Hayward issued a news release stating the city has numerous policies in place to ensure “a workplace that is free of harassment and discrimination.”

Late Tuesday afternoon, Matt Brown issued this statement:

On Friday, Megan Walker approached my office with a number of very serious allegations, a list of demands, and a deadline of 5pm on Monday.

Responding publicly to allegations and information collected by a third party is not the way to resolve any issue. We have an obligation to our employees to keep these types of matters confidential and private and we will continue to do so.

While we are unable to speak to the specific information being provided to the media through a third party, what I can tell you is that City Manager Martin Hayward has my full support. We will continuously and repeatedly reiterate our commitment to ensuring a workplace that is free of harassment or discrimination of any kind.

Over the last year, as a Council, we have made significant changes and we are seeing improvements in workplace culture. These improvements take time.

It’s important for all staff working at the Corporation of the City of London to understand there are many options available to them should they feel the need to reach out for any reason.

There is an intake process, internal and external human resources representatives, a workplace harassment and discrimination prevention policy, access to support from union organizations and employees also have the ability to reach out to the Labour Relations Board or the Human Rights Tribunal.

The #MeToo and #TimesUp movement is important and necessary. Right now, we see individuals from all sectors coming forward with stories of harassment and violence in unprecedented volumes. We need to make sure our policies and practices are designed so they protect everyone.

Often times being a leader means dealing with difficult and sensitive information; it means working through appropriate channels and not negotiating in the media or giving in to ultimatums, but rather taking a careful look at a situation and taking appropriate action.

If we need to make adjustments to our policies, we will.

Meanwhile, a former London fire department employee has shared her account of harassment exclusively with CTV News.

"I spent more time at work crying than not," says the woman who did not want to be identified.

She provided CTV News with a copy of a confidential letter she recently sent to mayor Matt Brown outlining verbal harassment and bullying that led to her to quit.

After 13 years working for the city, she was scared to speak up.

"I had worked there long enough to know that making a complaint would make my life worse not better."

Ultimately frustrated the author resigned in October 2015.

"No one believed that the city's harassment policies were anything other than a cover for human resources who certainly didn't give a damn about emplyees at the fire department."

The letter provides a first hand account of what critics say is an ineffective harassment policy for municipal employees.

Citing privacy rules, city manager Martin Hayward can't speak to the specific incidents in the letter, but spoke with CTV News.

"It saddens me because no one should come to work and feel that way," says Hayward.

Hayward says he has heard concern loud and clear.

One revision to the harassment policy may be to retain an independant third party to accept anonymous complaints.

During 34 years working his way through the ranks at London city hall, there were times he felt unable to speak up.

"I have experienced areas where I have been afraid in years past before we had processes and I don't want that for anybody else," says Hayward.

Brown called a special closed door meeting Monday with council.

CTV News has learned that the harassment policy was part of that discussion, but letters marked confidential, like the one provided to CTV News could not legally be included in the meeting.

The union that represents London firefighters says they commend the courage of those stepping forward because those voices need to be heard.

"The London Professional Firefighters Association continues to remain steadfast in all our efforts to engage our management and leadership team in conversations about buiding and protecting a safe workplace," says LPFA president Jason Timlick.

Hayward admits city hall isn't perfect but adds he doesn't want the public criticism to hurt his many dedicated and caring employees.

"They feel like we are all being painted as people living in an environment that's a negative environment and that's simply not the case," says Hayward.

CTV News reached out to fire chief John Kobarda for comment but has yet to receive a response.