HALIFAX – Jacques Dube swooped into Halifax with sartorial flair, star power and a sense of humour.
The former Moncton, N.B., city manager took over the helm of Halifax’s bureaucracy in September with a promise to cut red tape, boost efficiency and improve customer service.
But the chief administrative officer is now apologizing after a harassment allegation stemming from a text message he sent to a female colleague before a massive snow storm paralyzed the city in February.
The message spoofed a satirical news story that first appeared in The Beaverton, a Canadian online news satire site.
Using profane language, the text message described a man’s love of winter as “the best season” and the colleague’s desire to kill “this son of a bitch with my hands,” according to media reports.
The message reportedly went on to copy parts of The Beaverton’s 2014 story, headlined “Nation wonders if guy who ‘loves winter’ also likes getting (expletive deleted) choked to death.”
The colleague filed a harassment complaint against Dube. After regional council discussed the personnel matter behind closed doors in March, Dube took an unplanned leave.
In an email sent to municipal staff Thursday, Dube apologized for his conduct and said he owed staff an “honest assessment” of the situation and what he has learned.
“I have apologized to the complainant and take this opportunity to tell all of you as well that I am sorry,” he said. “As CAO, I should have known better and not assumed that I had permission to communicate about a matter unrelated to work. I have learned a lot from this experience.”
Dube said he sent the text to a colleague “absent of any context or regard for how it could be received.”
After the complaint was lodged, Dube said a thorough process was undertaken.
“This complaint was taken very seriously,” he said, adding that it was “independently investigated” and “fair conclusions were drawn.”
An independent investigator found that while he breached the city’s harassment policy, the incident was isolated and no harm was intended, he said. Recommendations from the process are being implemented, he added.
Still, Dube acknowledges that his text message impacted his colleague.
“I should have thought about what I was doing before I pressed ‘send,'” he said. “I didn’t think about the feelings of my colleague and I will always regret it. For that I am sincerely sorry.”
Dube urged municipal workers to “learn from my experience as I did” and to be “kind, generous and considerate of your colleagues.”
The city’s top civil servant pledged to be an advocate for a workplace free of harassment, and encouraged employees to report inappropriate behaviour.
“It’s not a complainant’s fault that they feel harassed and they should not be blamed in any manner for coming forward and looking to our harassment policy for a solution,”Dube said. “HRM must support complainants and treat all complaints seriously.”
Halifax councillors and city staff are keeping mum on the situation, refusing to speak publicly about personnel matters.
But a Moncton councillor said she was “quite surprised” to hear of the complaint against Dube.
Paulette Theriault, serving her third term as councillor for Moncton’s Ward 1, said Dube was “very professional” during his seven-year tenure as the top bureaucrat in New Brunswick’s hub city.
Theriault said “everyone was in tears” at Dube’s going away party.
“He was a pleasure to work with,” Theriault said in an interview. “I do miss him since he’s been gone.”
Halifax spokesman Brendan Elliott confirmed that Dube was off for a few weeks in March on an unplanned vacation.
“He’s been back in the chair for quite some time,” he said, noting that Dube was “heavily involved” in preparing the city’s budget, which passed last week.
Dube earns $270,000 a year, Elliott said, and is subject to an annual performance review by the executive standing committee of regional council.
The name of the employee who lodged the harassment complaint against Dube has not been publicly released.
City solicitor John Traves said the protection of privacy in personnel issues is essential so as not to discourage people from coming forward.
“Our policies provide that people can lay a complaint in privacy and understandably it will be kept confidential in the same way as someone who has a complaint registered against them can expect confidentially,” said Traves, who was acting CAO during Dube’s leave.