Skip to main content

'Toxic and abusive': Former staffers accuse Jennifer Rice of bullying while Edmonton councillor dodges questions

Share

Rookie Edmonton city councillor Jennifer Rice is refusing to respond to allegations that she bullied, belittled and yelled at staff members; claims the mayor says are "deeply concerning" and worthy of investigation.

The Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi representative, elected in 2021, refused at least three times to take questions Monday after the allegations became public in a report by Postmedia.

"My focus is on the budget. That is most important to Edmontonians," Rice said as journalists followed her from council chambers to her office at the end of the day.

In roughly two years on council, Rice has had a total of 19 employees in her office, city officials confirm.

No other councillor has had more than six in that time and councillors Sarah Hamilton and Erin Rutherford have had just two staffers each.

CTV News Edmonton spoke to two of Rice's former employees, agreeing not to identify them out of concerns of professional backlash.

One former staffer, who was there for a few months, said Rice created a "toxic and abusive" work environment.

"She never yelled at me. But I just noticed she had bullied some of the summer interns. I heard about previous bullying while I was there. I was bullied," they said.

The staffer described Rice as often confused and said she repeatedly failed to properly prepare for council meetings.

"I would watch her go into council meetings and have no idea what was going on, and ask for documents that she should have been very familiar with," they said.

When the staff member urged Rice to read prepared documents and let her staff help her organize her calendar, they said Rice became agitated and short with her employees.

"She started to raise her voice at me a few times. And I actually had to tell her, 'You should be a bit more careful about how you speak to me,'" they said.

"And I did notice that she was trying to catch herself in her tone towards me."

'SHE SEES HERSELF AS SUPERIOR': FORMER STAFFER

Another staffer described Rice as "passive aggressive," demanding and demeaning.

"I was never on the receiving end of the yelling or the screaming or the supposed bullying, [but] I saw it happen to other people," they said.

"I truly believe that because she sees herself as a councillor, she sees herself as superior to everyone else. No one else can reprimand her because she is an elected official."

The second staffer also had concerns about Rice's ability to serve the public as a city councillor and said the councillors' confusions have nothing to do with a language barrier.

"The English is perfect. But the contents of what she's asking for makes absolutely no sense," they said.

"Know that for every question that she asks at council that makes no sense, she's asked a dozen of those things behind closed doors, in her office, that are equally as baffling if not moreso."

They said in one case, Rice asked that 1,000 business cards be printed and delivered to her by the next day and then became mad when staffers told her the task couldn't be completed that quickly.

Ward Ipiihkoohkanipiaohtsi Councillor Jennifer Rice at Edmonton City Hall on November 27, 2023. (Jeremy Thompson/CTV News Edmonton)

'I AM DEEPLY CONCERNED AND TROUBLED': MAYOR

While Rice refused questions Monday, the mayor told reporters he plans to sit down with her to discuss the bullying and toxic workplace allegations.

Sohi also said he will ask the city's integrity commissioner to look into them.

"I am deeply concerned and troubled by these very serious allegations being brought against councillor Rice," Amarjeet Sohi said.

"Everyone working for the city, including mayor's office, councillors office, deserve and have the right to have a safe working environment."

Coun. Karen Principe, who often seconds Rice's motions and votes similarly, said she was "surprised" to hear the allegations.

"I've walked by her office numerous times and I've spent time with her and I hadn't seen any indication of [any yelling or abuse]," Principe said Monday.

The Ward tastawiyiniwak leader watched as Rice walked away from reporters. Principe declined to comment on Rice refusing questions.

"I don't want to speak for her, or speak about that. I'm OK answering questions about myself but not in reference to her, necessarily," Principe said.

The city's integrity commissioner, Jamie Pytel, said she was unable to confirm whether or not a complaint against Rice was received or if an investigation has been started.

Generally, if Pytel decides to investigate a complaint, she said a report is usually completed within 90 days. Sanctions against a councillor can then be recommended and voted on by councillors, following a hearing.

"I find it kind of an inadequate process, I think we probably need to look at further strengthening some of the rules around better protection for employees in the political offices," Sohi said Monday.

CTV News Edmonton reached out again to Rice on Wednesday, offering her a chance to respond to the allegations in this story.

"Thank you for reaching out to me. I take this matter seriously and will provide my response when it is ready," she wrote in an email.

The first staffer CTV News Edmonton spoke to believes Rice should resign her council seat.

With files from CTV News Edmonton's Jeremy Thompson

CTVNews.ca Top Stories

BREAKING

BREAKING Ex-Trump Organization CFO to plead guilty to perjury charges

The former chief financial officer of the Trump Organization is expected to plead guilty to perjury charges on Monday related to testimony he gave in a civil investigation into the real estate company’s finances, a person familiar with the investigation said.

Stay Connected