By Ryan McGreal
Published July 04, 2008
The Hamilton Community News published excerpts from a controversial taped interview between Mayor Fred Eisenberger and Hamilton Spectator columnist Andrew Dreschel.
In a recent press conference, the Mayor claimed that the recording was stolen from his office. He also said that he believes he contravened City Council's code of conduct by disclosing confidential information about Lee Anne Coveyduck, the former general manager of planning and economic development.
Council voted in a May 2007 in camera session to replace Coveyduck. At the time, Eisenberger had an "off the record" interview with Dreschel to provide "context" for the decision.
Hamilton Community News received a transcript of the taped conversation. According to their report, the Mayor "provided sensitive information" on the decision to replace Coveyduck, including background information on an internal auditor's report into problems with the city's building and licencing department.
Dreschel asked about the audit's recommendations, and Eisenberger agreed to provide additional information "off the record".
The mayor then preceded to provide the reporter with information that came from an incamera meeting that involved Ms. Coveyduck, councillors, and city staff.
Mr. Eisenberger told the reporter that councillors wanted to know from the auditor how much should Ms. Coveyduck have known about the problems within her department.
Mr. Eisenberger stated Ms. Coveyduck acknowledged in the meeting there should "have been areas that possibly Lee Ann should have had a better understanding or knowledge of something of that order" that involved 10 of the 14 recommendations contained in the audit.
The conversation then ventured into whether councillors were considering firing the general manager for cause. Mr. Eisenberger stated "Is there cause here and the answer is no.
"The answer was blatant, clear and unequivocal no.
"It didn't mean she wasn't doing her job. It didn't mean that she necessarily completely dropped the ball. It just meant that maybe she could have been stronger in some where in some area that she was over a period of time."
Eisenberger has forwarded a copy of the transcript to the city soliciter and asked council to investigate his actions and decide whether and how to respond.
Last Friday, Councillor Brad Clark admitted that he was the person who leaked the transcript to Hamilton Community News, also giving it to fellow councillors Sam Merulla and Scott Duvall.
When the news of Clark's leak became public, he defended his actions as "whistleblowing". He refused to state who provided him with the transcript, but his email to Merulla and Duvall stated that his source "regularly recorded the mayor's interviews."
The Spec reported today that his source appears to have been Ian Dovey, Eisenberger's former media advisor, who taped many of the Mayor's interviews:
The Spectator has obtained a copy of an e-mail that appears to be from Dovey to Clark. It was dropped off at the newspaper in a household composting bag with the label "leak proof" circled.
Dovey was terminated five months into his job, a month before his probation ended. He is currently suing the city for breach of employment contract.
Ironies surround this story like the layers of an onion.
During the time the Mayor provided the interview to Dreschel, he was publicly calling on Council and staff not to leak sensitive information to the media. In an email he sent to Council at the same time, Eisenberger wrote:
leaks of confidential information shared during in-camera sessions of Council are in contravention of the code, particularly information concerning personnel matters. This act is completely inappropriate and totally unacceptable. It besmirches both the image and reputation of Council.
Eisenberger has also been the champion of the city's new integrity commissioner, whose job will be to investigate alleged breaches of the code of conduct to improve transparency and accountability in municipal government.
Clark has stepped down from his position on the city's transparency and accountability committee until after an investigation into his conduct of leaking the transcript. Eisenberger has not, saying, "I think it would be reasonable not to prejudge."
Because Eisenberger's alleged breach of the code of conduct occurred before the establishment of the integrity commission, it will not be investigated by the commissioner. However, the integrity commissioner will be able to investigate Clark's alleged breach, since it occurred after the position was established.
One goal of the integrity commissioner is to provide a legitimate channel through which to report claims of impropriety rather than leaking stories to the media. Yet were it not for the recursive cascade of leaks, this particular story might never have emerged into the public realm.
Finally while the Spectator still honours Dreschel's agreement that the call would be off the record and refuses to publish the transcript, the Spectator and Hamilton Community News are both owned by the Metroland West Media Group, which is owned by Torstar.
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