JOE BELANGER, Free Press City Hall Reporter 2004-09-24 02:13:20
London city hall's embattled chef says he'll be back on the job Monday after being cleared of racism-related allegations levelled by the city's human rights watchdog. The exoneration of Adam Kopala could spell trouble for human rights specialist Joyce Burpee.
"The independent investigation has determined that none of the allegations against me of conduct contrary to the city's harassment and discrimination prevention policy were established," Kopala said yesterday.
Burpee complained in April that Kopala poisoned her work environment by circulating racist hate literature and removing anti-racism posters from the cafeteria.
Burpee concluded Kopala "is connected to this hate activity and that he is dangerous."
Kopala, employed by the contractor who operates the cafeteria, was reassigned to another location.
Burpee cannot investigate her own complaint.
As a result, the city retained London lawyer Marg Szilassy, who was paid $130,000 two years ago to draft an anti-harassment policy.
The Free Press was unable to obtain a copy of the report, which was apparently completed three months ago, but not released publicly.
City manager Jeff Fielding said yesterday he won't comment on the issue until after a closed meeting with council today.
Mayor Anne Marie DeCicco said she also will wait until council meets today.
That could be a raucous session of council.
Some council members, among them Coun. Ab Chahbar, previously questioned whether Burpee should keep her job if the allegations were unfounded.
"I haven't seen the report and I have no information other than what you're telling me, so I can't comment," Chahbar said last night.
"But the comments I made in the past I certainly stand behind. I don't want to talk about anybody's future at this point.
"But London city council is certainly owed an explanation and we'll have to make recommendations that must be made, need to be made."
Coun. Bernie MacDonald said he's anxious to see Kopala back. But MacDonald said he's concerned it's taken so long for details of the report to become public.
"I guess people will have to step lightly when they're criticizing people. You can't go off accusing people unless you have the facts," he said.
Deputy Mayor Tom Gosnell said Kopala will be welcomed back. "Hopefully, this is a matter that's behind us now and everybody can back to business," Gosnell said.
Kopala's lawyer, Bob Wood, said he doesn't know if Kopala will take legal action.
"I think he does have the right to sue," Wood said, adding Kopala is anxious to return "and begin serving the people there again."
"He's a reasonably strong and fair-minded individual, but a charge like that takes a toll on anybody," Wood said.
The human rights specialist's job has been the focus of controversy the last few years.
This week, Bob Wright, a London-born lawyer working in Toronto, filed a human rights complaint alleging the city didn't offer him the specialist's job because of his gender. The complaint was based on allegations by Coun. Fred Tranquilli that some members of council pressured staff to hire a woman -- an allegation denied by staff.
The city first came under fire in 2002 for failing to hire a specialist two years after agreeing to do so.
The specialist eventually hired stepped down after nine months, citing interference by senior managers.
Soon after Burpee was hired in January, controversy erupted over how much time she spends at city hall and over the complaint against Kopala.