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How Kamloops councillors and staff have leashed the mayor

A workplace investigation into the mayor of Kamloops and how he treats staff was so secret that the City wouldn't even acknowledge its existence.

Then he handed it to reporters.

Reid Hamer-Jackson said it mysteriously appeared in his mailbox despite asking for a copy over a period of several months. He said he wanted to defend himself against “false claims and innuendos.”

He provided a copy to on April 4. Coincidentally, the City responded to a Freedom of Information request for the same report, known as the "Integrity Group report," earlier that day. The City said it could not confirm nor deny the report even existed, despite being reported on by Kamloops This Week months earlier.

For the public, it colours in the context behind the seemingly endless spats at city hall between the mayor and anyone else since November 2022. It shows at least part of what sanctions or restrictions Kamloops city council has put on its mayor, something that hasn't been freely admitted without the report first being leaked.

A year-and-a-half after the election, the Reid Hamer-Jackson Show keeps on, with new episodes weekly. Yet it was almost a year ago that the first consequential actions against the mayor were taken.

He shows no sign of changing his course and bending to work with the eight councillors or City administration. Most recently, he and all other councillors were restricted from access to employee areas in City facilities, including city hall. The City said it was done to protect staff from bullying and harassment.

It's unclear why it would apply to all elected officials when Hamer-Jackson is the only one investigated for bullying, and it was also yet another restriction against him that wasn't announced to the public.

For him, the investigation report is a key document in a term where he has felt undermined by both council and administration from the beginning.

Hamer-Jackson’s copy was made up of photos taken of a PDF document on a computer screen. The reflection of a man can be seen on each page, which the mayor had printed and handed copies to multiple news outlets in Kamloops.

Although Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson asserts he never saw the report and never learned specifics about his supposed bullying at city hall before, it’s a report that effectively helped shackle the mayor from working directly with top level staff.

“It’s all false claims and innuendos, so no it doesn’t look good,” he said. “I know it doesn’t, that’s why I want to get it out there, so I can defend myself.”

The report concluded he bullied and demeaned multiple staff members, but he still denies the claims. He refused to take part in the investigation because the outside contractor wouldn’t send him summaries of the allegations before scheduling a meeting.

Hamer-Jackson expects the document may be referenced in court some day, which appears to be part of his motivation for releasing it publicly. He continues to assert that the report should be out so he can "defend himself" in not only the court of public opinion, but also confirms it could be used in court, too.

Whether it's because he expects legal action to be taken against him or because he may spur another lawsuit himself isn't clear.

In May 2023, after learning of the mayor’s behaviour toward four different staff members in the weeks after his election, investigator Terry Honcharuk suggested councillors restrict the mayor from speaking directly to certain employees, including Trawin and now-deputy chief administrative officer Byron McCorkell.

That meant no conversations without a supervisor and no written communications without a vetting for “inappropriate or offensive language or material.” It also recommended council send the mayor to “respectful workplace” training. In February, he completed a separate workplace training course. It was nine months after the report was finished and not the one prescribed by council.

By February 2024, those measures were extended again. Hamer-Jackson said it was Coun. Mike O'Reilly who informed him that they would continue for another six months.

The everyman, the disruptor

In November 2022, Hamer-Jackson came into office unpolished and inexperienced with politics. His public speaking needed work and he was unfamiliar with the formalities of public office, but that was all part of what got him elected — he's the everyman. He has spent his working life in the private sector, owning a business for the last couple decades, and he got involved in politics because of the issues he sees on the streets everyday.

He prefers people call him Reid, he has little patience for bureaucratic processes, and his flouting of conventions quickly rubbed people the wrong way.

According to the investigation report, minor transgressions came up within days of his inauguration. Hamer-Jackson asked a union employee for a tour of a City building. This caught the attention of administration and the city’s chief administrative officer David Trawin put a stop to it, telling the mayor there are procedures and the tour wouldn’t be appropriate.

Trawin offered to give the mayor a tour instead.

“Who are you to stop me?” Hamer-Jackson asked Trawin, according to the report.

The next day Hamer-Jackson called Trawin and asked “in a sarcastic tone” whether he could leave his own office, leaving Trawin “dumbfounded.”

That same month, Hamer-Jackson spurred a reaction from BC Housing because of unannounced visits to shelters. The Crown agency said he had a “pattern” of this behaviour, and it offered to arrange a tour tours through its facilities if he would like.

But Hamer-Jackson wasn’t looking for a tour. He was purportedly there to get a man in a wheelchair into a shelter, and he had councillors Stephen Karpuk and Kelly Hall with him.

They weren’t able to find the man a shelter space that day.

This behaviour was on-brand for Hamer-Jackson. He ran his election as a disruptor, which extended to his calls for “accountability” for staff.

Hamer-Jackson had no intentions of following the paths set out by administration. He said his perception of the previous council was simply a routine rubber-stamping what was handed to them by senior staff without much of a challenge.

He took after former councillor Denis Walsh, who could also be perceived as abrasive as he challenged staff during council meetings. Before the 2022 election, Walsh carried the torch for Hamer-Jackson’s suggestion that a drug treatment site be built in a rural area of town, away from the typically preferred urban centre.

The motion, which was clearly written with Hamer-Jackson’s involvement, was shot down by the former council.

Hamer-Jackson also had it out for Byron McCorkell, the former director of protective services who spearheaded the Community Service Officer program debacle – formerly bylaws. It was an expensive and lengthy dispute that cost longtime officers their jobs, and Hamer-Jackson saw the move as a failure.

It’s largely the reason Hamer-Jackson put a target on McCorkell, which he made known during the election campaign.

“You are a snake”

The investigation started not because of bullying against staff but an argument between two elected officials.

The feud simmered for weeks before it boiled over and sparked an investigation.

Coun. Bill Sarai and Hamer-Jackson had been friends for years before they joined each other at city hall.

Within the first few weeks of the term, text exchanges between them show the relationship was tense.

At the end of November, Sarai was urging Hamer-Jackson to get his “task forces” organized and encouraging him to work with the rest of council.

FILE PHOTO - Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson (left) and Coun. Bill Sarai (right) at a Kamloops city council meeting.
FILE PHOTO - Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson (left) and Coun. Bill Sarai (right) at a Kamloops city council meeting.

“You can’t do everything yourself my friend. We need four more votes,” a text to Hamer-Jackson on Nov. 26 reads.

“Yes we we team (sic),” the mayor responded.

The following days included vague conversations about city business, Hamer-Jackson’s issues with BC Housing and some coaching from the experienced councillor on procedure.

Then came a warning.

“If you do not start working with your council instead of against us, you will get nothing done in your four years,” Sarai said on Dec. 9.

Hamer-Jackson responded with anger, calling Sarai “a snake that won’t listen.”

A text exchange between Bill Sarai (right) and Reid Hamer-Jackson (left) is shown in this screenshot.
A text exchange between Bill Sarai (right) and Reid Hamer-Jackson (left) is shown in this screenshot.

Hamer-Jackson says his frustration arose out of an earlier meeting. Sarai proposed they meet in the mayor’s office that afternoon. What the mayor didn’t know was that Sarai would be joined by two other councillors as they handed him a letter.

The mayor said he was “ambushed” by the meeting, expecting only Sarai would be there. Sarai, however, said there was nothing out of the ordinary about it and said Hamer-Jackson should not have been so upset, even if it was a surprise that two other councillors were in the room.

The contents of the letter aren’t known and a copy, accessed through a Freedom of Information request, was completely redacted.

A month later, Sarai confronted the mayor in his office. He wanted an apology – one he wouldn’t get. The ensuing heated argument was so loud and tense that at least one nearby employee retreated to the lunch room to avoid it, while another questioned whether they should call 9-1-1.

The specifics aren’t detailed in the report, but Hamer-Jackson and Sarai each blame each other for the yelling match that ultimately ended with an investigation by the City’s human resources department.

Sarai said he left the mayor’s office after Hamer-Jackson slammed a table and yelled.

“You know what your problem is, Sarai? You don’t listen,” Hamer-Jackson said, according to Sarai.

Staff members were concerned for Sarai, who had left the building entirely, while Hamer-Jackson emerged and apologized for the councillor’s behaviour.

There were two people in that room, staff pointed out as he failed to apologize for his own behaviour, according to the Integrity Group report.

In Hamer-Jackson’s version, it was Sarai who was yelling at him as he demanded the apology. The mayor had him leave and even as the door was closed, Sarai kept yelling at the mayor.

Their relationship may have also soured because of reporting. Sarai, whose temper is becoming well known, confronted during the 2022 election campaign regarding a story about his son who works for the city. He was angry and yelled at both an reporter and Hamer-Jackson after an all candidates election forum. He accused of going after his family and accused Hamer-Jackson of tipping off about the story, which wasn't true. Sarai later threatened that he would stop all city councillors from answering phone calls from

If either of them were at fault for the yelling match, it wasn’t decided by the Integrity Group investigator nor the city’s own human resources department.

The internal investigation, taken on by the City’s safety manager Loren Cusator, called it a “near miss incident.” Incidents between elected officials are not typically dealt with by human resources, but she stepped in because of “potential psychological impact” on nearby employees.

No one felt their safety was at risk, according to the report.

But she found that arguments between Hamer-Jackson and Sarai had become routine, but none had been reported. Staff were reminded to report incidents where they “may have been exposed to a disrespectful or unhealthy work environment.”

Trawin and the head of human resources, Colleen Quigley, tried to meet with the mayor afterward. To their surprise, Hamer-Jackson had someone else, a friend who had no business at city hall, in the room to take notes.

“I said this is unacceptable to have a non city employee at the meeting as we are discussing city business. He said he is not willing to meet with me and would be willing to meet with director Quigley only,” a Jan. 25, 2023, email from chief administrative officer David Trawin to city council reads.

“This is getting very difficult for me to do my job.”

Despite the internal investigation, Quigley called for another one to explore the spat with Sarai and other previous incidents, which is what would become the Integrity Group report.

“False claims and innuendos”

Trawin and three others brought their concerns to Honcharuk, which each dated back to the weeks just after Hamer-Jackson came into office.

The investigator found the mayor bullied Trawin, demeaned him or threatened his job eight times from November 2022 to April 2023, according to the report.

It found the mayor was disrespectful to McCorkell once in November 2022 and that he was disrespectful to another employee three times From November to January. The fourth employee’s complaints were dismissed.

Hamer-Jackson knew there was discomfort with administration upon his arrival at city hall, too.

He told directors of the city’s major departments, which would have included McCorkell, were worried about their jobs. Trawin told Hamer-Jackson that shortly after he was was elected, the mayor said.

Hamer-Jackson, however, says he didn’t threaten anyone’s jobs when he came into office, especially Trawin’s.

While the mayor did not take part in the investigation, Trawin listed several times he felt his job was at risk. In turn, Trawin once told the mayor that he was being headhunted by no less than four separate municipalities, seemingly to show the mayor he would be fine if he was fired.

One of the first times was on Nov. 21, 2022, when Hamer-Jackson wanted to have a confidential letter from BC Housing released to reporters. When Trawin said he couldn't, the mayor accused him of “trying to get rid” of him, according to the report.

Trawin said if he wanted, he would tell councillors that the mayor tried to have an election campaign worker take notes in a confidential meeting with Interior Health.

Hamer-Jackson got “red in the face” and told Trawin he could fire him if he wanted, Trawin said. It was a hollow threat as he would need a vote from council to do so, but it still made Trawin worried, according to the report.

In other instances, the mayor's threats about Trawin’s job were more veiled.

Fast forward to March 2024, Trawin has been on an indefinite leave of absence. When or if he'll return to work at Kamloops city hall isn't clear.

Also in his first month as mayor, Hamer-Jackson told Trawin that McCorkell was on his “hit list,” and he would later ask if Trawin could put a “gag” on McCorkell to prevent him from speaking with media.

“He did not like what McCorkell was saying about the issues of homelessness, city bylaws and the City’s community service officers,” the report reads.

Hamer-Jackson and McCorkell have known each other for nearly two decades, according to the report, but it notes they were not friends.

McCorkell described Hamer-Jackson as a “frustrated taxpayer” who looks at him as a “bureaucrat" standing in opposition to Hamer-Jackson’s business interests.” He said Hamer-Jackson sought the seat as mayor primarily because of the shelter across from his business.

“Emerald House is the centre of his concern running for council… his whole motivation is to close down Emerald House, close down Rosethorn House and move it off (West Victoria Street),” McCorkell told the investigator.

Within the first two weeks of Hamer-Jackson’s term, McCorkell walked out of their first meeting because he was disrespected while discussing homelessness in Kamloops. He said it was the first time he’d walked out of a meeting with a mayor in 30 years. McCorkell made an effort in the early days after the election not to be in a room with the mayor, while also acknowledging he expected to be “attacked” over the bylaw department changes at public meetings.

“He would get rid of me in a heartbeat if he could,” McCorkell said of the mayor.

The deepening rift

Well before the investigation started, the mayor had already caused controversy at city hall, having met one of his first roadblocks before the new year.

Legal spats with two of the largest local non-profits dedicated to homelessness and addictions put him in a conflict of interest. Within weeks of his 2022 election, he was forced to recuse himself from the policy decisions that were critical to his run for mayor in the first place.

Another episode came in early January 2023, when councillors posted photos to social media boasting about their “team building” meeting with Trawin and an outside facilitator. The mayor wasn’t there, and his absence was supposedly unexplained.

Hamer-Jackson, while questioning whether the meeting was worth going to at all, asserted he told his assistant where he would be.

In the coming weeks, Hamer-Jackson would make his first effort at a unilateral decision through his mayoral authority. It didn’t go well.

He made changes to the council committee rosters, adding people from outside city hall onto each of them and, in some cases, removing a councillor from the list. The new additions included failed electoral candidates, his own election supporters, the head of the regional home builders association and a former Attorney General.

It wasn’t long after he emailed the list to council and administrative staff that it was then leaked to a reporter without the mayor’s knowledge.

The move had councillors frustrated, unaware the changes were coming and confused about how procedures will change with people from outside city hall taking part in committee decisions.

The move was technically allowed, but it so frustrated councillors that they dissolved the committees entirely, opting for a structure where they all have a say in who joins the roster. No one from outside city hall is on the new committees, nor is the mayor himself.

Councillors held a press conference in March just after the committee rosters were changed by the mayor, but before they could dissolve them. Reporters expected they would speak about the committees, but instead it was something new.

Hamer-Jackson’s behaviour was criticized as "erratic" and "disruptive" in a joint statement read aloud by Coun. Katie Neustaeter.

"While we as councillors have been subjected to repeated disrespect, violations of personal and professional boundaries, belittling and constantly disruptive behaviour by the mayor, we've been willing to absorb the impact in service to our community," she said.

Kamloops city councillors hosted a press conference on March 17, 2023, to voice their opposition to the mayor's unilateral changes to council committee rosters.
Kamloops city councillors hosted a press conference on March 17, 2023, to voice their opposition to the mayor's unilateral changes to council committee rosters.

It was this press conference that led to the mayor’s defamation claim in BC Supreme Court against Neustaeter.

They refused to take questions during the March 2023 press conference and did not give examples of the mayor’s behaviour. What they all knew, and the public didn’t, was that the Integrity Group investigation was already well underway.

He continued to look for ways to get his policy ideas through over that year, aimed at working with the homeless community. One was an effort to fund more street outreach positions, a motion that was defeated 8-1. He would later try to start an initiative that would fund bus tickets for homeless people looking to leave Kamloops. He pulled that motion before a vote because he saw it had little support.

While frequently lamenting a lack of support from other councillors, his relationships with some top city staff remained contentious.

His wife recorded a phone call with Trawin and the mayor later tried to have a resident read the transcript aloud at a council meeting, something that sparked an internal investigation and a new policy to outlaw recordings of city personnel.

In a seeming pushback from administration, it was on McCorkell’s direction that business owners next to Hamer-Jackson’s auto dealership were encouraged to report the mayor’s burnt-out SUV as a nuisance. The report would have helped generate a bylaw complaint and have it eventually towed.

It would later take an order from the fire chief, who deemed the twice-burned vehicle a hazard, to get it towed. It was McCorkell who had the information forwarded to reporters.

While all of these events continued over months, the City has steadily been investigating more than a dozen code of conduct complaints. Many, but not all, were filed against the mayor.

The most recent to be completed found he breached the bylaw in a finding that could impact his defamation suit against Neustaeter. Whether councillors filed any sanctions against him hasn’t been announced.

The tightening leash

While the contentious council continued to deal with their issues behind the scenes, keeping up appearances was a challenge too.

The public has heard from the rotating deputy mayor regularly this term, with councillors giving speeches at events and speaking to media on council’s behalf regularly – typically the mayor's duties — much more frequently than under former mayor Ken Christian.

The reason, according to some, is because the mayor’s schedule is unpredictable. Councillors Kelly Hall and Neustaeter said it’s because the mayor causes “chaos.”

Although Hamer-Jackson says he is “always available,” councillors say they’ve been asked to step in for last-minute speeches at events and sign bylaws when the mayor doesn’t agree with them.

“I know of invitations the mayor had been sent to speak at events that he was unaware of because he apparently hadn’t read his email,” Coun. Dale Bass said. “That puts the deputy mayor at odds because if you don’t know whether he’ll show up, you’d better be ready.”

This happened recently to Sarai and has to others as well. For some, including Sarai at a recent sports awards event, they got text messages from the mayor at the last minute, letting them know he was unable to attend.

Hamer-Jackson, however, says he’s received late notification of city emergencies and passed over for a press conference at least once in the last year, told by a reporter that Sarai was scheduled to appear without his knowledge.

One of his latest gripes was his attempt to add a slideshow to his state of the city speech to the Kamloops and District Chamber of Commerce. He continues to assert he wouldn’t have included graphic photos nor any where someone could be identified, but deputy mayor for March, Mike O’Reilly, told him none of the photos would be used once the City caught wind.

Even more recently, Hamer-Jackson suspended McCorkell in a move that was quickly overturned by the rest of council. He did so just before a long weekend, but councillors called an emergency meeting and held the vote while the mayor wasn’t available.

They not only reinstated McCorkell, which was announced to the public, but they also barred Hamer-Jackson from suspending him all over again. The restriction was extended to six other “protected” employees, deciding that the authority to suspend the administrative staff in that list would rest solely with the deputy mayor.

Four of those employees were already “protected” from the mayor, who he wasn’t able to speak with directly. Among them are top level administrative staff, but it’s not clear why more were added to the list, other than vague suggestions of protecting them from a toxic environment.

After he released the confidential Integrity Group report, Hamer-Jackson’s move was described as “unlawful” by Coun. Mike O’Reilly, who spoke with reporters just ahead of a council meeting on April 9.

He refused to say whether the City is taking legal action against the mayor, but said Hamer-Jackson put the municipality at legal risk for the employees named in the report. The statement was given just minutes before the beginning of this week’s council meeting on the condition that it not be published until an hour into the meeting.

Hamer-Jackson was leading the council meeting while stories were published, unable to immediately respond.

“I think the legal risk was when it got leaked, and I don’t know why the legal teams didn’t get together at that time and really focus on it,” Hamer-Jackson said later, adding that he was told that his own privacy was breached when Kamloops This Week initially reported on the Integrity Group investigation in the fall of 2023.

As the environment around city hall continues to deteriorate, city council as a whole was recently barred from entering staff areas without an escort.

It’s unclear why what’s been billed as a staff decision extended to every councillor, rather than simply the mayor, as he is the only one known to have been investigated for bullying and harassment.

Hamer-Jackson claimed he was “shocked” when he found he wasn’t allowed to walk freely through city hall anymore on April 11.

The mayor and the eight councillors have different versions of the environment at city hall. Hamer-Jackson claims the deputy mayor role is “enacted” frequently to undermine his role, while councillors say they’re managing a chaotic situation.

What seems increasingly clear is there is little hope the division among them can be mended.

The province sent Henry Braun, former mayor of Abbotsford, to advise them. He was contracted, on council’s request, in one of the few unanimous decisions they’ve had around the horseshoe.

His recommendations, however, will be simply that and won’t have any teeth. He’s not the first advisor sent by the province to municipalities in recent terms either.

One need only to look at Harrison Hot Springs to see the advisor is far from a silver bullet, and barring any legal action that forces someone out, voters could be stuck with a deeply divided city hall for another two-and-a-half years.

— This story was updated at 1:12 p.m., April 18, 2024, to say that while Reid Hamer-Jackson did complete workplace training, it wasn't the one ordered by council.

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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