In May of last year I wrote about the frustration I was feeling at being unable to get official confirmation from Sault Ste. Marie Police Services about even the existence of two stories I was chasing.
One involved a complaint about then Sault fire chief Mike Figliola, the other the departure of civilian crime analyst Stella Melanson, wife of Police Chief Robert Keetch, from the Sault Police Service after fewer than two years of employment.
My information was that both issues had been passed on to the OPP for investigation.
The chief replied to my question: “I am not in a position to reply in either respect.”
Deputy Chief Sean Sparling replied: “Thank you for your inquiry in regards to these two matters. I certainly appreciate the important role that you and the media play in our community. Our service endeavours to assist the media in your function when possible and where appropriate.
“Unfortunately, in regard to your questions on these present matters I am not in a position to comment in either respect.”
Within two weeks the existence of the matter involving Figliola, that he had billed the city for expenses for attendance at a convention of the Ontario Asssociation of Fire Chiefs that he allegedly didn’t actually attend, was confirmed through a Freedom of Information request placed with city police by an interested party who passed on the results to me.
In his reply Keetch said, “This request has been transferred pursuant to Section 18 (involvement of other institutions) of the Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act to the Ontario Provincial Police as the institution has a greater interest in the records due to the investigation being a joint forces project and all records are held by that police service.”
Since then, we watched as Figliola lost his job with the fire service and then was charged with fraud, uttering a forged document and breach of trust, a case that is still before the courts.
But in regard to Melanson, we are still in the dark as to the circumstances of how she left the Sault Police Service.
As a result I filed an FOI request with city police in December and recently received a reply from Adrienne Harris, A/Supervisor, Information Services, Freedom of Information Co-ordinator, declining my request.
However, from Harris’s reply I get the idea the Melanson issue has not been settled.
You can judge for yourself from her reply, which read:
“After careful consideration, access is denied to all employment records pursuant to Sections 52(3), 14(3)(d) and 8(3) of the MFIPPA (Municipal Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act) as follows:
“52(3). Proceedings or anticipated proceedings before a court, tribunal or other entity relating to labour relations or to the employment of a person by the institution.
:14(3)(d) Disclosure of personal information is presumed to constitute and unjustified invasion of personal privacy if the personal information related to employment or education history.
“8(3) A head may refuse to confirm or deny existence of a record.”
If the Melanson issue was not still alive, there would be no reason to include Subsection 52(3), which says there could be “proceedings or anticipated proceedings before a court, tribunal or other entity,” under reasons for declining my request?
And there is another indication, an exception under Subsection 52(4), which was not provided in Harris’s reply but which says the Act applies to, “An agreement between an institution and one or more employees which ends a proceeding before a court, tribunal or other entity relating to labour relations or to employment-related matters.”
If the Melanson issue indeed was over, this section indicates that I therefore should have been provided with the results.
Some may look at this as a straight employment issue and therefore wonder why I am so interested in it. It is mainly because of the lack of transparency surrounding the issue, which as I looked into it discovered there actually were two versions.
When I first approached the chief and deputy in regard to Melanson’s departure, I said I was checking out a rumour making the rounds that she had resigned her position and was suing the police service or some people in it for harassment?
I later heard that her leaving may not have been her idea, that the police service had a complaint with her, rather than the other way around.
Although the city came out with a release about Figliola’s departure from the fire service, no one in a position of authority would even go so far as to tell me whether Melanson had left the police service.
I confirmed that by phoning the switchboard and asking for her.
“She doesn’t work here any more,” was the immediate reply.
Keetch was hired as police chief in 2014 and a rumour was making the rounds a year later that he had hired his wife for a position within the police service without an open competition.
In addressing that rumour, Sparling told me, “In an effort to build a process that would get us the best candidate and be both transparent and defendable, the OPP were engaged to assist in developing the process.”
He said the OPP assigned a sergeant from the analysis and information section and the sergeant, joined city police Inspectors David O’Dell and Steve Davey in a process overseen by Bob Kates, then deputy police chief. He said to avoid any criticism or appearance of bias in the process, the OPP officer was purposely not informed of the relationship between the one candidate and the chief.
I said at the time that it should be noted that Sparling met with and briefed Pat Mick, then chair of the Police Services Board, and Mayor Christian Provenzano, also a member. Both told me they accepted the explanation, although Mick admitted the “optics weren’t good.”
When Melanson was hired there was some complaint about her salary, one missive I received saying the chief was attempting to have her salary boosted up to that of an inspector, well over $100,000.
Melanson did get a boost of $7.500, bringing her salary up to $74,000, far off that of an inspector, but she got the boost on her own through the filing of a pay-equity complaint that was arbitrated by a third party.
Considering the lack of transparency surrounding the Melanson issue to this point, I have little hope that we will be informed when it does come to fruition.
However, maybe there will be a leak.
That is known to have happened. In fact, without them, I would have missed a lot of good information that I was able to pass on to you through the years.
Keetch, Melanson’s husband, is also leaving the Sault Police Service, an announcement issued by the City of Sault Ste. Marie saying Keetch and Sault Ste. Marie Police Services Board “have agreed to end their employment relationship,” the same wording that was used in the departure of Figlola.
I suggested to the chief that the connotation wasn’t good, that it left some wondering what was behind his departure and even emailed a couple of the comments to him, but received no reply.
So I guess if he doesn’t care, I don’t see any reason why I should.
Doug can be reached at: [email protected]