Residents in Norman Wells call for mayor, council, SAO to resign
A group of residents in Norman Wells, NWT, has started a petition calling for the borough’s mayor, council and chief administrator to step down in the latest spate of legal and political wrangling that has engulfed the city for years.
The driving force behind the petition, says former Mayor Nathan Watson, is “a complete and utter lack of accountability and transparency” by the city’s leadership.
The group behind the petition is also calling for an independent investigation and forensic audit of the city’s finances. They do not want to say how many signatures they have collected so far.
The petition is a years-long dispute between the City Council, its former Chief Administrative Officer (SAO) Catherine Mallon and Watson that is making headlines again.
On Jan. 25, Mayor Frank Pope and his council said they had, and have, “decided to take the moral high ground.” Discontinuation of the Fraud Claim They started against Mallon in 2019.
Watson was a co-defendant in that lawsuit and Both he and Mallon later sued the cityalleged damage to reputation.
The mayor and council statement ignited Mallon, who called it “a pathetic attempt to justify four years [the town’s] Wrongdoing.”
She said the city’s allegations against her made it impossible for her to work. She now plans to seek damages, file a malicious lawsuit against the city, and pursue an outstanding claim for unpaid wages.
The city’s statement also lit a fire among Mallon’s defense attorneys, who said she had been defamed and that problems with city leadership ran deeper than her lawsuit.
“Your public statement is rubbish. It’s selfish,” Watson said. “It’s one of the reasons we won’t have a problem getting enough of our housemates getting upset not just about that but all sorts of other things to come with us and see if we force a change be able. “
The Council plans to “defend itself vehemently”.
Under the threat of another lawsuit, the mayor and council released a second statement last Friday. It struck a distinctly different note than two days ago.
They said they have evidence to support their original allegation against Mallon and that they would “vehemently defend themselves” against any lawsuit she files.
This week Pope told CBC that neither he nor the council had done anything wrong and he had no intention of stepping down.
The city has been “fairly transparent” about most of their dealings, Pope said — it’s the legal issues they’ve had to remain silent about.
“Because anything that is said publicly in our community leaks out very quickly and we have to keep our cards close to our slate in terms of anything that has to do with justice,” he said.
Yes, this saga has dragged on, Pope conceded, “but I don’t think it’s over [now] that Ms. Mallon wants to get back to us.”
history of dysfunction
The city’s involvement with Mallon precedes its 2019 civil lawsuit against them.
Malfunctions in local government were recorded at least as early as the summer of 2017, when Watson was mayor and Mallon was SAO.
It was then that John Hazenberg, a local inspector, delivered a damning assessment of Norman Wells’ governance to then-Minister for Local and Municipal Affairs (and now Prime Minister) Caroline Cochrane.
“Councils are keen to micromanage administration and completely lose track of governance issues,” he wrote in his August 2017 inspection report.
“The mayor has trouble staying in control because most councilors don’t show discipline,” two of which, Hazenberg added, had “not-so-hidden” agendas that ran counter to the community’s best interests.
“To say that the cooperation between the council and the city manager is very poor would be an understatement [Mallon]. Most councilors are extremely suspicious of the city manager’s administration and constantly demand all sorts of information.”
Mallon, in turn, spends many hours evenings and weekends getting this information for council members, Hazenberg wrote.
Watson and some of his council members responded to the inspection in a letter to Cochrane obtained by CBC. It acknowledged conflicts of interest and “real or perceived personal agendas” that interfered with their ability to govern properly.
They wrote that they had begun correcting their mistakes and reviewing their policies — particularly their code of conduct and ethical standards, which they said were “woefully inadequate.”
Watson and then-aldermen Harold McGregor, Heidi Deschene and Pamela Gray signed the letter. count. Sherry Hodgson’s signature is missing, but the letter states that she gave her consent orally.
Councilors Lise Dolen and Tim Melnyk did not sign the letter.
The “last breath letter,” as Watson later described it, was not enough to satisfy Cochrane.
On October 18, 2017, she took the extraordinary step of dissolution of the municipal council and appointing a municipal manager to assume the duties of the council.
Almost exactly a year later to the day Frank Pope was elected mayor.
The city submitted it Trial of Mallon and Watson seven months after the 2018 local elections.
It was alleged that Mallon “converted” more than $1.2 million in city assets for personal use and that Watson, as mayor, illegally signed a contract authorizing retrospective overtime pay.
At the heart of the city’s lawsuit was a “forensic analysis” of Mallon’s salary and expenses it billed the city between November 1, 2015 and October 1, 2018.
Yellowknife’s accounting firm, EPR, submitted this analysis to Municipal and Community Affairs (MACA) in June 2019.
“Some of our employees found something dubious,” Pope said when asked who initiated the investigation into Mallon. He said the city asked MACA to look into it and MACA conducted a “forensic review.”
EPR’s analysis cast doubt on the legitimacy of some of Mallon’s transactions. It also found that important documents were missing.
For example, the EPR report said some of Mallon’s expense reports poorly describe how the charges relate to the city’s business and often lacked receipts. It called her overtime claims for 3,887 hours, grossing $527,905, “extraordinary,” but noted that timesheets were missing.
In her affidavit related to the fraud lawsuit, Mallon says the allegations against her are false and based on rumor and speculation.
She said there were “serious problems” with the EPR report and that the author either did not see or had no access to receipts, time sheets and other documents proving the transactions in question.
Then, last November, EPR issued a press release stating its report was not a “forensic audit,” and nowhere did the word “fraud” appear.
The firm said it told MACA that it did not have full access to the city’s financial records and that the city did not seek permission from EPR to use the report.
EPR apologized to Mallon.
Last week, Mayor Pope and his council said they would drop their case against Mallon in light of EPR’s apology.
But Pope claims MACA said the city’s EPR report was a “forensic review” and was commissioned in part on the city’s behalf.
“Four years later, the company that did the forensic exam said it wasn’t a forensic exam, so we were put in the sandbag,” he said.
When asked for comment this week, EPR President Biswanath Chakrabarty said he should call his lawyer, Peter Harte.
Harte said MACA commissioned and accepted EPR’s report.
“[EPR] did not present the work as a forensic examination,” he said. “I don’t know if it would be satisfactory evidence of fraud.”
CBC sought clarity from MACA. Spokesman Jay Boast said MACA would not comment pending legal action against the City of Norman Wells.
“Nothing is Personal”
Watson believes the city’s uproar stems from personal animus.
Mallon, who came from Ireland for the job and didn’t look or speak like anyone else, was “an easy target,” he said.
Pope denied allegations of malice towards Mallon.
“Nothing is personal,” he said.
Pope declined to say how much the city spent on legal fees during this ordeal.
But when it’s all over, he said, leadership will give the community a full account of what happened.