City manager Patrick Draper accused Coun. Cam MacKay on Monday of having a personal relationship with Gord Hennigar, a man named in a defamation lawsuit filed by the city.
He also said during a city council meeting that two documents submitted by MacKay in favour of cutting city funding for that lawsuit were written on a software program owned by Hennigar.
“I think it would be appropriate for council to understand why in the middle of the legal process Coun. MacKay is trying for council to intervene on behalf of Mr. Hennigar,” he said.
Draper filed a defamation lawsuit against Hennigar, John Doe and ABC Corporation Ltd. earlier this year in regards to allegedly defamatory remarks published on the now-defunct St. Albert Third Floor News blog.
Council previously voted to support the city manager in defence of his reputation and to start legal proceedings against the author of the blog, but voted 5-2 – with MacKay and Coun. Sheena Hughes opposed – to have the city fund the suit.
MacKay now motioned that St. Albert cap the legal costs at $20,000 and require Draper to indemnify the city against potential damages from the suit. With his motion, he provided a document of “written reasons justifying the motion.”
Draper said he checked the properties for that document and the author was listed as GTH Holdings Inc.
“An Internet search reveals that GTH Holdings Inc. is registered to 12 Desmarais Cres., which is the home address of Gord Hennigar,” he said.
Document properties, also known as metadata, are details about a file that describe or identify its origin. In the case of a text document that can be the owner of the computer or the program it was written on.
Draper said MacKay forwarded another document to him on Sunday, which was written by an anonymous resident who claimed to be a retired lawyer.
The resident wrote several pages with “legal sounding arguments” that were written in the same font and format as the backgrounder submitted by MacKay, said Draper.
When he checked the properties, he found “the author was also GTH Holdings Inc.,” he said.
Draper said that Hennigar had been a strong supporter of MacKay during the last civic election. He recommended that council now seek external and internal legal counsel.
He also said that he did not anticipate significant expenditures from the lawsuit in the meantime. The legal cost in October was $26,366 and he expects another small amount will be billed for November.
While councillors initially seemed prepared to debate the motion, they changed their minds after hearing Draper’s comments and voted to postpone a vote until the end of the first quarter of 2016.
Coun. Wes Brodhead said he would seek independent legal advice on how to go forward from here.
He said that each of the councillors should “do some significant soul searching on how we proceed forward on what is a significant matter of the integrity of this particular body.”
“What we heard tonight and what has transpired is troubling to me,” he said.
The majority of council agreed with him.
Coun. Sheena Hughes and Coun. Bob Russell, however, argued that the unlimited budget the city manager was given access to remains a concern. They wanted to come to a decision sooner.
“For us to sit here and wait another five months is wrong,” she said.
Hughes, Russell and MacKay voted against postponing the vote.
MacKay said he saw no reason why council could not vote on his motion on Monday. He said that Draper has “not proven anything today.”
He denied ever receiving support from Hennigar but admitted that he is working with a retired lawyer who rents space from Hennigar.
He also said that Draper is desperate to attack members of council “but this is not appropriate the way you are going about it.”
MacKay later told the Gazette that the retired lawyer is actually his father who “rents a place from Gord.”
He said his dad is giving him legal advice that they send back and forth online. He also said that Hennigar pays the utilities and the Internet bills on the property – an acreage in Sturgeon County.
“Their connection (is) landlord and tenant,” he said. “It just happened to work out that way.”
Asked how the documents ended up with Hennigar’s company name in the properties, MacKay said his father has his own computer but “maybe the bill gets send to Gord’s house.”
The Gazette also spoke to MacKay’s father, Cameron MacKay, on Tuesday morning.
Contrary to his son’s claim, the older MacKay said he not only rents a home from Hennigar but also uses his computers.
He said his son asked him for “an objective opinion” on the validity of the lawsuit, so he helped him out.
He also said that Hennigar was a client of his 10 years ago and he continued to know him after he quit practising.
“He came to me when he got served with his statement of claim and said, you know, ‘can you help me?’ ” he said.
“And I said no, because I don’t practice law anymore but I’ll set you up with a law firm.”
“I took him into Duncan Craig’s office and I arranged for him to have a lawyer and after that I stayed out of it,” he said.
He since has not been asked for advice from Hennigar, he said. But he is helping his son with what he thought were “very legitimate questions.”
Asked about his son’s relationship with Hennigar, MacKay said that his son was quite surprised and annoyed when Hennigar endorsed him during his last election campaign.
Coun. MacKay told the Gazette on Monday that Hennigar is an acquaintance and he talked to him “maybe four times this past year.”
He continued to question if the accusations made by Draper were true and stressed that this should not overshadow the lawsuit debate.
Asked if he worries that this may fall back on him, he said, “I don’t think it’s a bizarre situation.”
“It’s just, that’s where (my dad) lives and really the two aren’t connected,” he said. “He is my dad, I get advice from him, I get advice from my mom, I get advice from my neighbours.”
The truth of the above statements and allegations made by Draper, MacKay and others have not been verified.
Gord Hennigar could not be reached for comment.