A former Trail mayor and multi-term councillor says it’ll take years for the city to rebound from the untimely departures of four seasoned staff members, with only one of those key positions re-filled.
“That’s 75 years of collective experience that has walked out the door, it will take years to dig ourselves out of this hole,” Sandy Santori says. “Our city has reached an all time low.”
Never in our history have we experienced anything like this, he adds.
“Attracting people to fill these positions will be next to impossible.”
Santori’s comments follow the latest news that a lawsuit has been filed against the city wherein a former top administrator alleges she was subjected to “unabated bullying and harassment” to the point of needing medical leave.
Michelle McIsaac, employed with the City of Trail since 2002, is suing for breach of contract and constructive dismissal.
Trail Mayor Colleen Jones’ name appears in the suit, which dates back to 2021 when Jones was a councillor. The city’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is also noted in the court documents, though not by name.
Santori says the six council members, elected in Oct. 2022 when Jones won the mayoral seat, have entered “a hornet’s nest” and are unable to bring forth their excitement, knowledge and ideas that would move the city forward.
“They have absolutely no leadership with this lawsuit pending, no staff to carry out initiatives that would move the city forward, and the new council played no part in any of what has transpired,” Santori says.
“As a former mayor and councillor — but more so as a citizen — I am deeply concerned about what is happening to our city today and the impact it will have in the years to come.”
He mentioned one need look no further than council agendas, generally absent of new business or new ideas up for discussion. Santori attributes the thready agendas to the lack of staff reserves.
“We have a good, young council who were excited to get things done and are now totally discouraged,” he adds. “Our city has reached a low never experienced in its history.”
McIsaac filed her lawsuit Aug. 24 in the BC Supreme Court, accusing the city of failing to act in good faith, causing her to suffer mental distress and embarrassment. She is seeking aggravated and punitive damages because she alleges the city’s actions were “harsh, vindictive, reprehensible and malicious.”
She is also seeking special damages, including expenses incurred in attempting to find new employment.
The city has three weeks from the date of filing to respond.
While McIsaac’s suit is the latest legal proceeding, it isn’t the first.
After nearly three decades of working for the city, the first top administrator to depart was David Perehudoff.
Perehudoff left in 2021. He was paid out the remaining nine months of his contract after a complaint he filed against a former Trail councillor was substantiated by a third party investigator, though no resolution was reached.
After Perehudoff left, McIsaac was appointed interim CAO. According to McIsaac’s lawsuit, the toxic work environment was ongoing.
In the third week of June 2023, according to her civil claim, McIsaac decided to treat the city’s conduct as a breach of contract and constructive dismissal.
This action followed a June 1 departure by the city’s 15-year parks and recreation director. The city released an announcement weeks before saying Trisha Davison was moving on to a job at the Regional District of Central Kootenay (Castlegar/Nelson).
That position remains open.
Santori mentioned the latest departure, Andrea Jolly, the city’s long-time communications and events coordinator.
After 10.5 years, Jolly is leaving at month-end.
The city posted an ad for her job Wednesday morning.
“The people that have left are paramount to a city’s day-to-day operations and refilling these positions will be a monumental task given the history of senior management’s filing of complaints against councillors and now this lawsuit for wrongful dismissal and the allegations of a toxic work environment,” Santori continues.
“Who in their right mind would want to leave their current comfortable jobs to enter such a toxic environment — real or perceived.”
He says the current CAO, Colin McClure, is faced with “running the entire show with very limited burnt-out staff.”
“I have recently been told that council was told not to bring forth anything new or pass any motions as there is no time or resources to initiate anything,” Santori questions.
“How can our city move forward under these conditions?”