Another Charlottetown deputy CAO alleges Peter Kelly fired her after she raised concerns at city hall

Another Charlottetown deputy CAO alleges Peter Kelly fired her after she raised concerns at city hall

by Sue Jones
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Much like her predecessor three years earlier, the latest deputy CAO to be fired from the City of Charlottetown told councillors her dismissal came after she raised concerns about city administration.

Philip Brown Peter Kelly Charlottetown City Hall

Mayor Philip Brown sits behind chief administrative officer Peter Kelly at a meeting of Charlottetown City Council on April 25, 2022. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Much like her predecessor three years earlier, the latest deputy CAO to be fired from the City of Charlottetown told councillors her dismissal came after she raised concerns about city administration.

Tina Lococo was fired by her boss, Charlottetown chief administrative officer Peter Kelly, on April 8. That’s just six months after she was hired as his deputy, after previously serving as the solicitor and executive director of corporate services for the Ontario town of Midland.  

In an email to council, Kelly said he was “not at liberty to discuss specifics” as to the reason for Lococo’s dismissal.

But in an email she sent to Charlottetown councillors two weeks later, and obtained by CBC News this week, Lococo said she had recently sent “a series of detailed confidential emails to all of council” outlining “several areas of concern at the city… which in my professional view required attention by council.

“Coincidentally, the CAO terminated my employment before I had the opportunity to discuss these concerns with all of council.”

It’s not clear if all of the concerns Lococo had offered to discuss in private meetings with councillors are listed in the email obtained by CBC News.

[Peter Kelly] simply stated, ‘You know this isn’t working out’ and that he was ‘terminating my employment immediately, without cause of course.’– Tina Lococo

In that email, Lococo said she wants to see the corporate culture at city hall change so “that all staff (present and future) will be able to do their jobs properly and to speak out against impropriety without fear of reprisal or losing their jobs.”

Second fired deputy to email council

Meanwhile, council has not publicly responded to allegations brought forward three years ago by Lococo’s predecessor Scott Messervey that were brought to light this month in reports by CBC News.

Messervey is an accountant who previously worked in the offices of the Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island auditors general.  

In his own letter to council after he was fired by Kelly in January 2019, he said he believed his firing “was retaliation for highlighting the significant number of problems at City Hall and Mr. Kelly’s incidents where he exceeded his authority.”

Scott Messervey

Scott Messervey, shown in an image from his LinkedIn page, worked for the office of Prince Edward Island’s auditor general for eight years before being hired to be deputy chief administrative officer for the City of Charlottetown. (LinkedIn)

Messervey’s letter went on to list 18 specific concerns, ranging from millions in capital cost overruns he said were approved by Kelly without the necessary council authorization, to a meal he said was expensed as a finance meeting, even though the costs included alcohol and meals for some councillors’ spouses.

CBC has not substantiated these allegations.

Fired in phone conversation

In her email, Lococo told councillors she had requested a meeting with Kelly “to discuss my role with the city and the issues I had identified thus far.”

What she got instead, Lococo said, was a short phone conversation with her boss, during which her employment was “unceremoniously ended without discussion.”

Her letter went on: “He simply stated, ‘You know this isn’t working out’ and that he was ‘terminating my employment immediately, without cause of course.'”

Lococo told councillors immediately that after the call, she received an email from Kelly — on her personal email account, as she had already been locked out of her city email — stating: “Your continued employment with the city is not viewed as being consistent with the direction the city will be going in moving forward.”

Charlottetown City Council

Charlottetown city council meets on April 25, 2022. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Lococo told councillors Kelly had never provided her with the authority necessary “to do the job for which he hired me” and said he “failed to address, properly, my concerns with respect to a host of issues.”

Similar concerns were raised by Messervey, who in a statement to CBC News said Kelly was dismissive and did not share the concerns Messervey had brought forward.

Projects left behind

In her email, Lococo listed 15 different projects she had been involved in, saying she hoped the city would continue to move forward with them. Among those:

  • Collaborating with the city’s lawyer “to address the Enterprise file,” a controversial deal in which the city started purchasing all its vehicles from an international fleet management company, sidestepping local dealerships.
  • Leading a “comprehensive contract review for the city, including taking a closer look at ongoing problem contracts and potential resolutions.”
  • Addressing concerns of a “toxic work environment” at city hall.
  • Leading an organizational review and corporate restructuring of the city, including the creation of departments for legal and risk management and an office of the city clerk.
  • Conducting a comprehensive bylaw, policy and procedures review.

Lococo also mentioned in the email that she would no longer “be able to participate in the formal CAO evaluation process.”

City policy requires all staff to undergo a performance review at least once a year. In media reports, Mayor Philip Brown has said council has agreed the CAO’s review should take place every second year.

Kelly’s last review was completed in 2019.

Mayor ‘disappointed’ with email leak

Lococo declined to provide an interview or comment. CBC requested interviews with Kelly and Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown. The city responded saying a statement would be provided on behalf of the mayor, but no statement was provided.

In an interview after this story was initially published, Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown said he was “disappointed” Lococo’s email was made public.

“She sent an email to 10 councillors and mayor. And at the start of her email, she made it very clear that she did not want this to be shared with the public because she did not expect to be hauled into this issue,” Brown said.

Brown would not answer questions about Lococo’s claim she had brought forward concerns about city hall and then been fired.

“Look at the repercussions we’ve done for Ms. Lococo and her family,” he said of the leak of the email. “It’s very disrespectful.”

Brown said the city is “going through a process” regarding the future of Kelly as CAO.

Provincial review found no breach: minister

Earlier this week, the Official Opposition asked the province to step in by conducting an investigation into Messervey’s allegations. 

After that request was made, Minister of Communities Jamie Fox told CBC News his department had previously initiated a third-party review.

Philip Brown

Charlottetown Mayor Philip Brown said he was disappointed Tina Lococo’s email was leaked. (Shane Hennessey/CBC)

Fox said that review found there had been no breach of P.E.I.’s Municipal Government Act. But the review was never made public, and Fox’s department has provided no further information. 

Both Coun. Bob Doiron, who met with Fox in 2019 to discuss Messervey’s concerns, and the mayor told CBC News that they were not aware of any review being done.

Matters ‘have become personal’: Kelly statement

In the letter of termination Kelly provided to Messervey in 2019, filed as part of a severance dispute in P.E.I. Supreme Court, Kelly wrote he had fired his deputy “as a result of an unsuccessful probationary period.” 

He cited concerns about Messervey’s interactions with staff and council members, saying some staff felt Messervey was “looking for errors, rather than attempting to work with them to meet city and departmental goals.” 

Peter Kelly

Charlottetown CAO Peter Kelly served as mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality for 12 years, with his tenure ending amid protests over a failed concert series. (Laura Meader/CBC)

In a letter in response, Messervey disputed that, saying his efforts “were solely aimed to improve city operations.”

As for Kelly’s response to CBC’s earlier story involving Messervey, he sent a statement saying: “Unfortunately the matters at hand have become personal and I will be seeking advice to ensure that my accountabilities, along with others, are held up to.

“The administration, along with my personal character, have come into question and these need to be addressed accordingly.”

Before coming to Charlottetown in May 2016, Kelly spent two years as CAO for Westlock County in northern Alberta. His time there led to a provincial review that concluded he had authorized non-budgeted spending without proper council approval. 

Before that he was mayor of Halifax Regional Municipality from 2000 to 2012. 

During that time he championed the cleanup of Halifax harbour, delivered an apology to the people of Africville and helped the city host the 2011 Canada Winter Games. But he was also embroiled in controversy over expenses from a failed concert series. 

If you have information about this story, or a news tip to share with CBC Prince Edward Island, please email [email protected] or [email protected].

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