Former deputy mayor seeks apology for town manager’s ‘rude’ behaviour

Former councillor and deputy mayor Merlin Estabrooks tells Mayor Higham he wants an apology. Estabrooks served on council from 1960-64

Mayor John Higham has defended a senior town manager who apparently told two Sackville residents they could not speak with an engineering consultant about the Lorne Street flood control project unless they were willing to pay for his time.

The mayor was responding on Monday night to former town councillor and deputy mayor Merlin Estabrooks who was asking for an apology because of  the “rude” behaviour of Jamie Burke, the town’s senior manager of corporate projects.

“We’ll look into what the circumstances were,” Higham said. “I believe Mr. Burke was doing what he understood was his job,” he added. “The contractor was not supposed to be providing information about the specific contract except to council.”

Higham referred to a public briefing on Phase Two of the Lorne Street project that town council received at its “discussion meeting” on September 4 from Pierre Plourde of Crandall Engineering.

Members of the public are not allowed to ask questions during council’s discussion meetings, so after Plourde’s presentation, Estabrooks and Sackville resident Percy Best followed him out of the council chamber to ask for more information.

“[It was] a friendly conversation clarifying some of the things he had said,” Estabrooks explained. “Mr. Burke goes out and tells us we can’t talk to him unless we pay for it,” he added.

“We deserve an apology,” Estabrooks said. “That was a private conversation. He (Burke) had no business coming out and getting into it. He was very rude and ignorant…Why didn’t he want us to talk to this man?”

Mayor’s response

Mayor Higham responds to Merlin Estabrooks

Mayor Higham responded by pointing out that contractors like Plourde bill for their time.

“We have 55-hundred people in this town,” the mayor added, “if they all said ‘I have the right to talk to that contractor,’ and they have the right to bill you, well, we’d have to double or triple the contract costs.”

Higham said people in town do get to ask consultants questions during public sessions that are held on projects like the   Lorne Street one, but at other times, councillors ask the questions in their role as municipal representatives.

“We have a lot of people that want to talk to contractors that are under contract with us, but that would throw off each of those budgets if everybody got the opportunity to talk to them whenever they wanted and have clarity whenever they wanted; that’s council’s job,” Higham added.

To listen to the entire seven minute exchange, click on the audio player below:

Estabrooks not satisfied

“I guess I still didn’t get my apology,” Estabrooks said after the council meeting.

He said he served on council from 1960 to 1964. The historic April 1962 Sackville flood occurred in the middle of his term.

In his earlier exchange with the mayor, Estabrooks said he was giving the Crandall consultant information he should have before Burke interrupted their conversation.

He suggested during an interview that constructing two water retention ponds as part of the Lorne Street project is not what the town should be doing.

“Clear the ditches out to the river,” he said. “Why are they putting a holding pond in the quarry, the highest place in the town?” Estabrooks asked.

New playground equipment

Some of the existing metal and plastic playground equipment in Lillas Fawcett Park

At its meeting Monday night, town council approved a $22,500 funding agreement with the New Brunswick Regional Development Corporation (RDC).

The provincial money will go toward replacing the metal and plastic playground equipment in Lillas Fawcett Park at Silver Lake — a project that will cost a total of $97,500.

During the question period at the beginning of the council meeting, Sackville resident Brian Lane noted that the town had budgeted about $7,000 this year for replacing playground equipment in the park, but no work was done and he wondered how the project had now “morphed into” one worth $97,500.

Matt Pryde, the manager of recreation, explained that the town had planned to replace the playground equipment gradually over the next five years, but after he and parks manager Todd Cole attended a workshop in Fredericton on natural playgrounds, they decided to apply for grants to build one here much sooner.

“Natural playgrounds are a lot like traditional plastic and metal playgrounds in that there’s still climbing structures, there’s still slides, there’s still opportunities for kids to be active,” Pryde said. “But rather than be built out of the metal and plastic, they’re built out of more natural products like wood, boulders, rope, berms in the ground itself and that sort of thing.”

Pryde added that he and Cole have been able to raise a lot of money for the playground project.

“We’ve been very successful,” he said. “Up to this point we have approximately $61,000 in cash and in-kind.” The money includes the $22,500 RDC grant, $7,000 from the town, $8,000 from TD Bank and $3,500 from the Sackville Rotary Club. The town will also supply $20,000 worth of in in-kind contributions such as installation of the new equipment.

Pryde said he has also applied for a $35,000 federal grant to complete the project, but will not know until next spring whether the town will get that money. In the meantime, he said the town can go ahead installing a new slide, a berm with a rock scramble and a climbing wall. He explained that if the federal grant doesn’t come through, the town can still complete the project in phases.

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9 Responses to Former deputy mayor seeks apology for town manager’s ‘rude’ behaviour

  1. Geoff Martin says:

    “Members of the public are not allowed to ask questions during council’s discussion meetings, so after Plourde’s presentation, Estabrooks and Sackville resident Percy Best followed him out of the council chamber to ask for more information.”

    Here’s the obvious solution — let members of the public ask questions at public Discussion meetings. You might be exposed to a good idea!

  2. Percy Best says:

    Town employee Jamie Burke was definitely ‘way out of line’ when he rudely interrupted our private conversation in the lobby and outside of the Town Council chambers. I personally did pay the $200 directly to Crandall Engineering in June for a copy of the tender package and have since received emails from Crandall stating that “If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us.” That is precisely what we were doing out in the lobby.

    Past Deputy Mayor Estabrooks is right when he says all that has to be done is clean out the existing marsh ditches and construct a larger aboiteau to the river. The ditches have NOT been maintained by our Public Works Department for over 50 years.

    The route that the NB Department of Transportation and Infrastructure (DTI) has suggested to us can be done for less than one tenth of the price that the Town Engineer and Crandalls proposes. It is DTI and the Department of Agrilculture that have constructed and maintained all of the 80 aboiteaux and culvert systems of the surrounding marshes. It is the Provincial Government that owns them. To the best of our knowledge the Town of Sackville, and quite possibly Crandall Engineering, have never been involved in the construction of an aboiteau for well over one hundred years. Repeated requests to the Town to verify this have NOT been answered. There is now in excess of $8,000,000 being played with by the town to do a completed project that certainly need not be done in the way they suggest. A simple enlarged ditch to a new aboiteau on the Carters Brook is all that is needed according to DTI. This new aboiteau was already recommended in the Hilcon Report paid for by DTI.

    It is a sad day indeed when the current management of OUR Town feels the need to trample so harshly on the rights of our citizens for the simple act of FREEDOM OF SPEECH.

  3. Sharon Hicks says:

    The mayor stated that citizens have a chance to ask questions and offer suggestions at public information sessions regarding projects.

    That statement, however, is misleading.

    By the time those public meetings take place, the project in question is already planned, and has usually already gone out to Tender. Those meetings are simply a means for ‘the Town’ to inform the public about what will be done. It appears the consultants are there simply to explain the plans.

    There is currently NO opportunity for citizens to approach consultants with questions, or concerns, or even valuable suggestions which are often based on considerable past experience.

    We have been told that we need to take those questions and suggestions to the Senior Manager of Corporate Projects. From previous encounters, however, we have found that those questions often do not get answered, and any suggestions frequently do not make it to the hands of the Consultants.

    Citizens, who are the taxpayers ultimately footing the bill for those consultants, should have a right to be part of the process.

  4. Rima Azar says:

    Good point Geoff (Dr. Martin) :).

    As far as I am concerned, I find this exchange interesting to read about/listen to for the simple following reason—for the sake of accountability with a capital A… Not just for a single behaviour by a single individual at a single point in time but rather for accountability in the larger sense of governance: Decisions and value for money. Performance, etc.

  5. Louis says:

    The truth is, Sackville runs like an autocratic regime or a monarchy, and not a benevolent one.

    You may think that you’re citizens and voters. Some Soviet citizens also thought that.
    We knew better and also thought that *we* were better. I’m not so sure about the latter part of this last sentence.

    In truth, you are subjects. Sure, you can vote. I don’t even think that the ballot boxes are stuffed. But the thing is, it doesn’t really matter who gets elected. With very few exceptions (I can think of ONE on the current Council), once they sit on those Council chairs, they basically become a part of the problem. Why? That’s a good question, to which I don’t fully know the answer. Is it ego-driven, by feeling important? Is it because they don’t really know what’s going on and are afraid to rock the boat? Are they subject to pressure tactics like “The lawyers/accountants/engineers/insurers say that we must do X”? Are they just stupid and over their heads? Is it a lack of time? Are they climbers who feel that if they don’t rock the boat, they’ll have a chance at something more important? Do they seek the benefits of being lobbied by special interest groups? Is it even more nefarious?

    Whatever it is, the real calculus seems to include the fact that most people don’t care enough to seriously revolt as long as the garbage gets picked up and the snow cleared. People get the government that they’re willing to tolerate, broadly.

    So when you see rude behaviour directed at you by Town Staff, remember: YOU work for THEM, not the other way around. Everything else is just for show. Once you realise that, everything else just falls into place, including getting treated rudely, etc.

    You are subjects, not citizens!
    If you pretend otherwise, it’s only yourselves that you are fooling.
    Town Staff know very well what your place is…

    • Rima Azar says:

      Louis, your comments are always straight to the point (too direct for some maybe). I personally like them because they are direct and honest (like you; this is why I love you too, I think :))… Seriously, sadly what you are describing is true.

      Many citizens in Sackville are afraid to talk ( we can see why given what was described in this article and the comments by citizens). Some (most?) citizens have perhaps developed apathy. Others are busy earning a living OR being afraid of losing their jobs because they need to bring bread to the table to feed their kids. Perhaps they are wise to ignore the deep public issues to focus on their loved ones and on the beauty of our Sweet little Sackville… and the charm of our province (minus its issues).

      What is the solution? Could anything be done to fix things? This begs another question: Does NB evaluate the functioning of its municipalities? Not just to produce and archive reports but to see if there is a need to re-organize or just to see whether we are doing things well. I am not an expert of municipal politics. I am just trying to be an informed citizen.

      I personally think that the Pandora’s Box has been opened at least twice in the very recent history of Sackville: (1). with the story in this article and (2). with the very recent legal saga around the old white beautiful church and the false permit. I call our volunteers on the Heritage Board, including you Louis, heros. Today’s article is about two additional heros: Mr. Percy Best and Mr. Merlin Estabrooks. Thanks to them too for asking for more accountability. Sadly, no lessons seemed to have been learned from all this… at least thus far… This being said, it is never too late in life, I want to keep believing. I think our municipality does some good things sometimes. So, this means that it has the potential to do better and it can learn to be transparent. Why not?

      Finally, you wrote Louis that *people get the government that they’re willing to tolerate, broadly*. Interesting comment…. I can only agree with it, even if sometimes the choices are limited. I say this whilst thinking specifically of the dark ages in the Middle East 🙁 where citizens have “tolerated” dictatorship in many countries for too long….the tragedy is that, instead of freedom of democracy as they have dared to dream (with the Arabic spring), they ended up being confronted to two competing evils: the religious freaks VERSUS the powerful dictators. Which one would be the least dangerous to live under or nearby? I never ever thought (whilst growing up under occupation imposed by such dictators) that one day I will get to a point where I could dare finding their (political) totalitarism perhaps (at least apparently) less scary than the (religious) totalitarism of islamism (here, I wrote Islamism and not Islam; even if I personally think that Islam, as a religion, needs to be reformed to save it from the extremism of islamism). Luckily, in the middle of this messy region, there remains a moderate country with a tradition of democracy and diversity… Yes, the tiny yet clever Lebanon is still hanging on in peace (hopefully for good). Its citizens are even tolerating an ABSENCE of a government for over 128 days now (elections took place in May, 2018). If I am not mistaken, Belgium may have set a record of 589 days without a government in 200711.

      Why am I writing all this (sorry it is too long)? Because Louis’ comment made me think of how much we take our democracy for granted! We forget that it can be fragile even in the most democratic and beautiful places in the world like Canada. Perhaps this is why immigrants (even older ones like myself) may be perhaps more attached to this precious democracy/freedom (of thinking, of speech, etc.). They know very well what life would be without democracy. This is why it feels odd to see what they thought they left behind when they immigrated occurring in front of their eyes (e.g., autocratic regimes, to use Louis’ words, or extreme ideologies, etc.).

  6. tuxemal says:

    Mr. Martin hit the nail on the head.
    The discussion group format has been one debated for some time.
    In fact discussion groups first came to be I believe when Mr. Martin was a member of council.
    Although these meetings were set out to be fact finding missions there is no reason why public questions can not be taken.
    One point l like from the 2010-2015 strategic plan penned by Micheal Fox through work by his students by interviewing town citizens (at no cost to tax payers unlike the most recent plan) was eliminating the liaison roles and hold meetings as committee of the whole.
    This would allow all councilors to participate in department information sessions and be able to ask questions and not rely on reading a staff prepared report to get information from.
    Also opportunity could be provided for public questions and engagement at that time.
    Amherst has a committee of the whole system. Maybe investigate how that works.

  7. G says:

    If you hired someone we will say from Holland. To come in and look the situation over I bet you 5 Robins coffees they could tell you in a heart beat how to solve your problem.

  8. Barb Smith says:

    It sounds to me like our Director of Corporate affairs is running this town while the mayor and councilors sit back and let this happen. I was employee of the town for sixteen years as a seasonal employee working twenty five hours a week. At the early part of last falls season i was forced to work three hours every Sunday. I was a union employee making fifty four cents over minimum wage,.Our Director of Corporate.Affairs told me I would be replaced if I would not work the three hours every Sunday I was replaced with a worker from Kelly Services and they are doing my job and getting paid fourteen dollars an hour but for every hour a Kelly Services person is working for the town Kellys are being paid twenty five dollars an hour. The Director of Corporate Affairs told Council it was cheaper to hire through Kellys than pay our benefit package however part time employees have no benefits, only four percent vacation pay which everyone has to pay. I sent a letter to all of Town Council, the Mayor and my boss Ron Kelly Spurles and The Director of Corporate Affairs however i have not heard back from anyone other than Mr Burke. By the way i was replaced with a lady from New Zealand and a lady from Amherst who does not even know where the covered bridge is. I am a senior citizen who has lived in Sackville all my life and have traveled the Maritime Provinces many times over. Who would you sooner have representing your town? I am also a taxpayer in this town and feel these jobs should go to townspeople first.

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