Ottawa Mayor Jim Watson, city councilors and senior officials have been ordered to compose messages they have sent across platforms including cellphone text and WhatsApp by the end of the day.
These messages do not appear to have been included among those half a million documents The city of Ottawa previously surrendered to a public inquiry to examine its light rail system.
But City Hall has been working in recent days to get those messages delivered after a commission lawyer saw a WhatsApp chat that referred to “continuous” texting between Mayor Jim Watson and former OC Transpo chief John Manconi , CBC News learned .
The Ottawa Light Rail Commission marks the halfway point of four weeks of public hearings Friday, during which key stakeholders past and present will be interviewed by legal counsel. Next week, Watson, Manconi and some councilors will all testify under oath.
On Thursday, the commission released a Arbitration decision on its website about messages sent by key city stakeholders on the WhatsApp platform that Ottawa’s outside attorneys wanted edited. It was two news chains that the city consultant STV Inc. wanted to introduce as evidence.
The referee ruled that messages that did not contain medical information or personal phone numbers could be released.
For example, on October 27, 2019, when drivers were experiencing daily delays, Manconi sent a message to railroad director Michael Morgan that said, “Ok Michael, you need to get in touch with me today if you can. Major developments and also the Mayor has ordered that no money goes to RTG or RTM. The faucet is officially closed and the mayor has full authority.
Aside from the news released Thursday, the WhatsApp chains appear to have alerted the Commission’s lawyers to broader news that they hadn’t seen.
According to an email obtained by CBC News, the City of Ottawa employee who organized his documentation for the public inquiry told members of the council and other city officials that the Light Rail Commission had issued a subpoena to the City of Ottawa in recent days.
Leslie Donnelly shared that the commission ordered: “Please produce all texts, WhatsApp and similar (ie, any electronic messaging platform) Messages for the period June 1, 2019 to December 31, 2020 to two or more from Mr. Holder, Mr. Morgan, Mr. Charter, Mr. Manconi, Mr. Kanellakos, the Mayor, every member of the Council, and Mr. Cripps. In this regard, I note the reference in the WhatsApp chat messages to “continuous” text messages between Mr Manconi and the Mayor, which (to the best of my knowledge) were not created.”
The commission’s lawyers specifically wanted to see news involving Mayor Manconi or City Manager Steve Kanellakos in the period that begins about when the mayor is questioning many LRT-related executives June 2019 in his office and said the train would probably open by September Troubled first New Year’s Eve when two trains lost power.
This trial period, which led to the launch of the LRT in September 2019, has been the focus of testimony at the public inquiry for the past two days.
During the investigation, many documents not originally intended for the public, including e-mails, were viewed made public as evidence while the commission seeks to explain the technical and commercial problems that have led to all of Ottawa’s light rail problems.