The B.C. Liberals provided a telling insight into their secretive ways Monday, with the response to an access-to-information request on the forced departure of Ken Boessenkool, chief of staff to Premier Christy Clark.
He resigned Sept. 23, two weeks after the premier’s office fielded a complaint about his conduct involving a female staffer in a bar and following what was described as a by-the-book investigation by the Public Service Agency.
Seeking details about how the Liberals handled such a sensitive affair — Boessenkool was recruited by the premier herself to oversee operations in her office and all political staff in the government — Jonathan Fowlie of The Vancouver Sun filed two requests to the agency under freedom-of-information legislation.
He asked for: “All records relating to an investigation into allegations of improper conduct by former Chief of Staff Ken Boessenkool.” Also for: “All correspondences emails, letters, BlackBerry messages and/or text messages sent or received between Lynda Tarras and Ken Boessenkool.”
Tarras being the head of the Public Service Agency, the government personnel arm. She handled the matter personally and reported back directly to the premier.
The Liberals, in announcing her role in handling the matter, emphasized her familiarity with the Public Service Act, human resource practices and procedures, and the case law surrounding both discipline and dismissal.
Given the way the matter proceeded through the hierarchy, from premier’s office to the head of personnel and back to the premier, it seemed likely that some sort of written record would be forthcoming.
But, no. In answer to Fowlie’s first request, the government responded Monday: “Although a thorough search was conducted, no records were located in response to your request.” In response to the second request: Ditto.
Neither records nor correspondence. No emails, nothing from the network of BlackBerrys, not even a text message.
The answer was so all-embracing, Fowlie considered the possibility that he’d filed the request to the wrong agency. Perhaps the material was on file elsewhere in the hydra-headed government.
No again. When he put the question to the office of the premier, he was advised that the government wasn’t holding back anything. There were no records of this affair. The entire matter was handled “verbally,” from start to finish.
So, to recap what the Liberals have put on the public record, the complaint against the chief of staff came to the premier’s office not long after the Sept. 7 incident happened. The premier herself was advised of it in short order.
Despite the severity of the allegation, she allowed Boessenkool to remain at his post while the investigation was delegated to the Public Service Agency.
The agency head handled the investigation herself, conducting the interviews, making the necessary inquiries, drawing all the conclusions. She then reported back to the premier, who concluded that Boessenkool had to go, a verdict with which he himself (judging from his letter of resignation and the absence of any severance package) concurred.
All those events unfolded over the space of two weeks without anyone generating a single, solitary scrap of paper. Not even a memo that could have been redacted by the Liberals under the many options available to them in the access-to-information law, which is riddled with loopholes.
Incredible. Just incredible.
The nothing-in-writing approach does cast a somewhat different light on the premier’s initial characterization of the way she handled the Boessenkool departure.
“Our review immediately began and that review followed the processes that are set out and laid down by B.C.’s Public Service Agency,” she told reporters after the news broke on Sept. 24. “All of the procedures were absolutely followed.”
Really? Agency procedures are posted in detail on the government website. The emphasis is on putting things in writing, particularly regarding matters serious enough to warrant a resignation, as did this one. Not much about the word-of-mouth option.
Clark again: “After the investigation was done and I was presented with all the facts, I had a decision to make and I made that decision.”
After she was presented with the facts in a strictly oral briefing. No notes, interview transcripts or written recommendations.
And again: “I think an employer has a duty to gather the facts before letting someone go.” How many employers, confronted with these circumstances involving one of the senior officials in their organization, would neglect to put the key findings in writing, just in case either the complainant or the target of the complaint were to seek legal recourse?
Lastly: “Everything that was done, was done absolutely to the letter.” Which is not to say that her government generated an actual letter, or, indeed even one written word that could be sought after the fact by a pesky journalist.
Amateurish and sneaky at the same time.
But at least we now know how badly Clark wanted to keep people in the dark about her handling of the departure of one of the most powerful officials in her government.