November 29, 2022

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Lawsuits, workplace complaints shake White Rock city hall

Report calls councillor Erika Johanson’s actions “misguided” and “a result of poor judgment.”

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An outside law firm found that White Rock councillor Erika Johanson “engaged in personal harassment” towards city staff, according to documents filed in B.C. Supreme Court.

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The findings were part of two investigations conducted in December of last year over complaints made by and against councillor Johanson over bullying and harassment in the workplace.

“I believe that councillor Johanson’s actions were misguided attempts to fulfil her duties as a city councillor as a result of poor judgment and ignorance about the city’s definition of personal harassment,” wrote Pamela Connolly, an investigator with Ukrainetz Workplace Law Group, who conducted the investigation.

Johanson’s communications “met the required threshold for harassment due to their repetitious, disparaging and increasingly disrespectful nature,” Connolly wrote.

The reports were included as part of the city’s response to legal action taken by Johanson over measures the city took following what she claims were false allegations that she bullied and harassed city staff.

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Also included in the city’s response were copies of comments critical of city staff posted online by Johanson, as well as over a hundred pages of emails between Johanson and city staff.

Johanson, who was elected to council in 2018, claims that the dispute arose from inquiries about budgeting matters she was making last year with the city’s then-director of finance, who took leave due to excessive stress before quitting her job entirely.

Johanson’s petition, which names the City of White Rock as the respondent, seeks a judicial review of a decision by the city’s chief administrative officer (CAO) to order her to refrain from contacting city staff directly.

The second investigation stemmed from a workplace complaint filed by Johanson against White Rock’s CAO, Guillermo Ferrero, for the same issues cited in her legal action. Johanson refused to take part in the investigation and Connolly found that Ferraro “had a reasonable basis” to assert that Johanson “had engaged in workplace bullying and harassment” and that he “understood his obligation as CAO to put measures in place to address workplace safety.”

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Connolly noted in her reports that Johanson included an apology letter to White Rock’s finance director, alongside her complaint against Ferrero.

“I understand that our recent communications may have been misinterpreted as disrespectful or bullying,” the letter read. “Please accept my apology for any miscommunication and misunderstanding.”

Connolly noted that the finance director “did not believe that councillor Johanson was genuinely remorseful” and did not read the letter.

Amanda Silvers, manager of communications and government relations for the city, said in a statement posted to the city’s website that as the matter was before the courts there would be no comment.

None of the allegations have been proven in court.

— With files from Keith Fraser.

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