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 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
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.