What seemed like a routine matter turned into a lively, six-minute debate followed by a tied vote during Monday’s Sackville Town Council meeting.
It happened after Councillors Andrew Black and Bill Evans moved to rescind a town policy that spells out who is next in line if the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) is temporarily unable to carry on.
The policy, adopted in 2007, designates the Town Treasurer followed by the Town Clerk and Director of Engineering as next in line in that order to serve as Acting Chief Administrative Officer.
However, the policy conflicts with a later bylaw which says the CAO may designate a senior town employee as his or her replacement and must file a letter with the mayor indicating that this action has been taken.
Councillor Bruce Phinney said he would vote against getting rid of the policy spelling out who should act as a temporary replacement for an absent CAO.
“I think the policy that’s in place now is really good because of the fact it tells exactly who’s in charge,” he said.
Phinney added that the list includes the town’s most experienced managers and he noted, for example, that Treasurer Michael Beal has already served as Acting CAO on a number of occasions during his 25 years of service with the town.
Phinney said there may be times when a CAO is unable to designate a successor and then, council would know automatically who the Acting CAO is.
“Councillor Phinney is entitled to his opinion,” Councillor Evans responded. “I think the Clerk’s office has reviewed this stuff and decided that this [policy] is not required because of our current bylaw. I support that,” Evans added.
Councillors Andrew Black and Allison Butcher voted with Evans to get rid of the policy while Deputy Mayor Joyce O’Neil and Councillor Ron Aiken voted with Phinney to retain it.
Councillors Michael Tower and Megan Mitton were absent from Monday’s meeting.
Mayor breaks tie
After a short hesitation, Mayor Higham voted to rescind the policy, but suggested the policy committee might look at what provisions should be in place if a CAO is unable to designate a temporary replacement.
The discussion came as CAO Phil Handrahan marks his fourth year in office after a turbulent history in which CAOs regularly came and went.
A search of the Sackville Tribune-Post archives shows, for example, that since the year 2000, there have been four CAOs.
Council dismissed Barb Campbell in 2005 after five years in office. She sued for wrongful dismissal and three days into the hearing, both sides agreed to a confidential settlement.
In July 2006, Barry Carroll took the job, but left in August 2009 for reasons that were never disclosed.
Eric Mourant was fired in August 2011 after only a year-and-a-half as CAO. The town had hired Moncton lawyer Kathleen Lordon to investigate his performance and at least one complaint made against him under the town’s workplace harassment policy.
Mourant filed a lawsuit in 2013 seeking re-instatement, but court records show the judge ruled against him and awarded the town $1,000 in costs.