Candle Lake Mayor refutes allegations from councillor, calling them ‘serious and slanderous’

The Mayor of the Resort Village of Candle Lake issued a lengthy statement refuting what he terms “serious and slanderous” allegations made by Coun. Ron Cherkewich when speaking to the Herald regarding an access to information request Cherkewich has issued regarding a cheque for about $7,000 issued by the village to the Pandilla law office.

“Mr. Cherkewich is not the official spokesperson for the Resort Village of Candle Lake and his actions reaching out to the media only further show his disregard to Resort Village of Candle Lake Policies and bylaws. Communications Policy 200-67 states that the Mayor is the official spokesperson for the Resort Village of Candle Lake.”

Cherkewich and other members of the council have been involved in a bitter dispute dating back at least three years regarding several allegations of ethical violations levelled at each other, as well as three judicial reviews and multiple Information and Privacy Commissioner reports.

At one point, the ombudsman issued an investigation calling on council to more thoroughly investigate code of ethics complaints.

The legal bill in question, Mayor Borden Wasyluk wrote, was provided to Cherkewich “on several occasions, including, in an email that was sent to all of Council on May 23rd, 2019. This payment was approved for payment at the May 23rd, 2019 Council meeting in Motion 132/2019.”

Wasyluk attached the motion.

The Herald had previously seen the motion.

In reporting the original story, the Herald reviewed at least 15 documents, including OPIC decisions, the Ombudsman’s report and several pages of council minutes and agendas.

The Herald searched for the judicial review decisions using public databases but was unable to find the written decisions.

Wasyluk attached more documents for review, including one of the decisions in one of the applications for judicial review, in his statement, issued shortly before 4 p.m. Tuesday.

The Herald was not able to fully review the documents as of press time but will follow up later this week.

“Cherkewich filed several Court Applications against the Resort Village of Candle Lake in his 4 years on Council and cost over $87,000 in legal fees to the taxpayers of Candle Lake,” Wasyluk wrote.

“Mr. Cherkewich in his application to the courts listed three of the 4 other councillors separately and threatened us that we needed to seek independent legal counsel.   Justice Acton in his decision in QB 379 of 2018 (see attached) Section 11 stated the three members of Council incurred the legal costs as a result of defending their actions made as members of a municipal body, municipal office.”

Wasyluk included a quote from the decision saying that the municipality was to repay the cost the councillors incurred defending themselves.

Cherkewich told the Herald he believes the legal fees are ineligible, as he cited the investigation into the RM of Sherwood.

That investigation found that in the case of that municipal inspection, the bylaw passed by those councillors to repay their legal fees was improper.

This, though, was a judicial review and not a municipal inspection.

“The issue of this cheque was further reviewed in report 33/2019 received by Council at the July 12th, 2019 Council meeting,” Wasyluk wrote.

“Despite Councillor Cherkewich being a self-professed ‘lawyer specializing in municipal affairs’ and despite the ruling in QB 379 of 2018, Councillor Cherkewich commenced and continues to commence court proceedings listing individual councillors knowing that they are making these decisions as a member of a public body and cannot be held personally liable.

The items Councillor Cherkewich is consistently requesting are not related to any items on current Council agenda and are requested for his own personal reasons, unbeknownst to the rest of Council.”

Wasyluk said the council strives to look after ratepayers’ interests and the financial integrity of the municipality, and posts agendas and minutes online to be transparent.

The council also has annual audits to ensure it is in compliance with requirements “in looking after the financial integrity of taxpayer’s dollars and responsible spending.”

Wasyluk wrote that Cherkewich was never removed from council, rather suspended for Code of Ethics breaches.

Those suspensions, Wasyluk said, were “undertaken based on advice from various municipal authorities to try to deal with Code of Ethics complaints.”

Those suspensions were later quashed by a Queen’s Bench justice.

The current Municipalities Act has no means, other than code of ethics complaints to deal with failure to comply with remedial actions.

Wasyluk said “amendments are being proposed” to give the government relations minister authority to act on a report from the Information and Privacy Commissioner and Ministry of Labour relations and workplace safety in addition to an investigation from the provincial ombudsman.

In 2019, a resolution asking that the act be amended to allow municipalities to present the Minister of Government Relations with “sufficient evidence” of repeated code of ethics violations and have the minister order the council member be removed from office passed at the Municipalities of Saskatchewan (formerly Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association) convention.

Candle Lake sponsored the resolution.

A question sent in response to the Mayor regarding the amendment received no response as of press time.

Wasyluk then turned to the allegations regarding Coun. Matkowski’s cleaning contract, which was in place prior to her election to council.

While the ombudsman noted she had been cleaning the facility for over ten years, the Herald’s story missed the nuance that the village only took on that contract in 2013 and that the contract was with a different body before that.

That contract renewal was the subject of code of ethics complaints issued by Cherkewich, who alleged it was signed improperly.

Wasyluk has a different view.

“As far as the allegations about Councillor Matkowski’s contract, Councillor Matkowski was only under contract for 5 years. The purchasing policy was adopted in 2016, the contract was only renewed once as provided for in the contract since the policy was in effect.

Since that time, in 2019, the contract was posted for tender and awarded again to Councillor Matkowski with only one other bidder,” he wrote.

The ombudsman did recommend that the contact go out to tender. That has since been done.

What the Herald story didn’t get into — but the ombudsman did — was what Wasyluk and other village councillors allege Cherkewich’s intent behind challenging the contract was really about — harassing the administrator.

 “Councillor Cherkewich used this complaint as a means to interfere with the hiring of our current CAO. He stated publicly that he would resign if she was hired as the administrator. He wasn’t happy with the fact that the current CAO was mentored by the former CAO who he referred to in the Harassment Investigation interviews as being someone “as close to evil” as he has ever met,” alleged Wasyluk.

“She ended up on stress leave as a result of the harassment of her by Councillor Cherkewich,” Wasyluk alleged.

“He was by (a report) to have been guilty of harassment of the administrator on at least 5 documented occasions. In his current campaign documents, he makes no secret of his wishes to advertise for a new administrator.”

While Wasyluk didn’t specify which report he meant, a 2018 report completed following an Occupational Health and Safety complaint concluded that Cherkewich’s behaviour “rose to the level of harassment” on five occasions. The report made no recommendations and didn’t specify whether the harassment was actionable.

That finding was quoted in the ombudsman’s report. In that same report, the ombudsman said council has not made any decisions at a public council meeting regarding that report.

That report wasn’t received and filed by council, Cherkewich said. Instead, the village hired its lawyer to look into those same allegations detailed by the report. After two years, the lawyer who investigated — including interviewing staff — recommended closing the file with no case for harassment.

Council received and filed that report in May 2020. Despite receiving this report, Wasyluk levelled those same accusations against Cherkewich as early as this week.

Cherkewich said a ruling by Chief Justice Popescul found the ombudsman’s reports rely on untested evidence. Evidence before a court, however, such as that at a judicial review, is weighed and tested in a way the ombudsman’s report isn’t.

In the judicial review decision, Justice Acton wrote that the court found “no evidence before it that (Cherkewich), in conducting himself in his duties as a member of council, did not have clean hands or that his actions disqualify him from making an application for judicial review.”

Cherkewich said that code of ethics complaints and allegations of breach of privacy against him have all been dismissed either by the Information and Privacy Commissioner or by the courts. Complaints issued against Wasyluk and two other councillors , he said, have been left outstanding.

Wasyluk concluded by informing the Herald that the village has contracted Cenera to respond to the large volume of requests it receives from Cherkewich and that the Information and Privacy Commissioner report — which was issued last week — was “simply a ruling that his request had enough information to warrant a search.”

— this is an edited story. This story has been edited to reflect that the accusation of ‘serious and slanderous’ allegations was a statement from Wasyluk, and an allegation. It’s also been edited to clarify that the harassment complaint in question came out of an OH&S investigation in 2018 cited by the Ombudsman, and to add additional information received after the piece was published. The Herald apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.