Phil Handrahan resigns as Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer

CAO Phil Handrahan chastises critics at Monday’s council meeting

After more than six years on the job, Phil Handrahan has submitted his resignation as the Town of Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

Mayor John Higham informed councillors in an e-mail yesterday that Handrahan’s resignation will take effect at the end of February.

Handrahan became Sackville’s CAO in May 2013 after a 30-year career with the city of Charlottetown where he had been serving as director of fiscal and development services.

Neither the mayor nor Handrahan himself have returned phone calls so the reasons for the CAO’s resignation are not clear.

Councillor Bill Evans, who serves on the town’s personnel committee, said that he’s personally not surprised at Handrahan’s departure.

“When he came here,” Evans said, “his plan was to be here for a term,” he added. “My understanding is that his intention was to be here for five years.”

Evans said he’s grateful that Handrahan, whom he described as “an experienced administrator,” actually stayed a bit longer.

“I’ve been really pleased with his professionalism and the professionalism he’s brought to the town,” Evans said, adding that Handrahan clarified the roles of town staff and council.

Evans said the personnel committee knew about Handrahan’s decision to resign well before Monday night’s council meeting when the CAO uncharacteristically chastised a member of the public and Councillor Shawn Mesheau for raising questions about how the town evaluates the events it sponsors.

Shelley Chase, owner of Garrison Hill Entertainment

During the public question period, Shelley Chase, owner of an entertainment booking agency, asked what measurement system the town uses to calculate benefits to residents versus expenditures.

She pointed out, for example, that the town spent $9,035.50 to stage a Joel Plaskett concert that attracted 180 people. Chase said revenues amounted to only $5,750 producing what she called a “net financial loss of $3,385.”

Mayor Higham objected to her use of the word “loss.”

“It’s not a loss of money, it’s an investment by the community to deliver a service that doesn’t make a profit,” Higham said. “It’s not a loss as you described it,” the mayor added. “We’ll describe that there’s a difference between the revenue and the amount of cost attached to it.”

Higham said that similar questions arise over the town’s subsidies for the rink at the Civic Centre.

CAO Handrahan then said that it’s up to council to decide on town spending for events and besides, the town is not a profit-making organization.

“It’s not whether or not we’re making money,” Handrahan said. “We don’t charge for roads, we don’t charge 100% for the arena, we don’t charge for sidewalks, we’re not trying to make a dollar on events.”

Councillor Shawn Mesheau

After Handrahan accused Chase of not understanding what the town does, Councillor Shawn Mesheau said it’s important to evaluate municipal services.

“As  a  councillor, I would hope to get the information so that when budget time comes, that an evaluation could be done to help a determination be made in regards to a line item in the budget,” Mesheau said.

Handrahan replied that all information is supplied during budget deliberations. “And you as a former member of council know that,” he said referring to Mesheau’s previous years on council.

Handrahan added that council votes on all expenditures. “So, you’re the evaluator. You ask us what to do. We’re doing what you’ve asked us to do,” he said, adding, “You ask more questions than anybody. We answer them as best as we can to try and give you the information. To make that statement suggests that we’re just going off willy nilly spending money without a care,” the CAO said to Mesheau. “That’s unfair.”

Mesheau replied that he hadn’t said that.

“You said ‘needs to be evaluated,’ you should listen to what you just said,” Handrahan replied. “You’re implying that we’re just spending money and we don’t care.”

“Wow,” Mesheau said.

“Wow is right,” Handrahan answered as their testy exchange ended.

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3 Responses to Phil Handrahan resigns as Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer

  1. Sharon Hicks says:

    Wow is right !! …

    For those of us in attendance at the meeting Monday night, what we witnessed was as far away as one can stray from the ‘professional image’ which Councillor Evans has used to describe our soon-to-be-departing Chief Administrative Officer, as noted in the above WarkTimes article. Members of the audience that night were left feeling a bit ‘shell-shocked’, wondering what would happen next.

    And now we find out that the CAO’s resignation was already well underway prior to the meeting.

    I have verified that the Sackville Tribune was alerted in advance of Monday’s meeting, in order to allow enough time for them to prepare the story, which they published first in their online version late Tuesday afternoon, and then in today’s print edition of the Tribune. Since both the Mayor and the CAO were quoted in the Tribune article, they clearly both knew of the resignation at Monday’s meeting.

    And now through WarkTimes investigation, Councillor Evans has revealed that the Personnel committee also knew about the CAO’s resignation “well in advance” of Monday’s meeting. Councillor Bill Evans and Councillor Andrew Black are the two Personnel Liaison Councillors, who also were “in the know” at the meeting.

    Meanwhile, the remaining six Councillors were not advised of the CAO’s resignation until Tuesday afternoon, not too long before the information was passed down to Town staff.

    So, looking at that timeline, it becomes clear that Mayor John Higham saw fit to inform the mainstream media BEFORE even alerting all of Council. It is Council as a whole who rightly direct the Mayor on what he releases to the public. In this case he clearly acted prior to consulting with Council.

    I find that extremely alarming, to say the very least.

    On Monday night, when CAO Handrahan said to Councillor Mesheau – “You ask more questions than anybody!”, he was certainly stating the truth.

    The unfortunate fact is that MORE Councillors SHOULD be asking MORE questions. Why are they not?

    Instead of just accepting at face value whatever information they are provided, they must make sure they have all the facts and relevant background information on whatever the issue is, in order to make a truly ‘informed’ decision. Otherwise they could be left basing important decisions on what is sometimes found after the fact to be ‘incomplete or inaccurate’ information.

    The fact is, for the past three years at least, we have observed there have been progressively fewer questions asked by Councillors about information delivered to them by staff, upon which they are expected to base decisions.

    That changed for the better when Councillor Shawn Mesheau was re-elected to Council in the 2018 by-election, and he has indeed been asking a lot of pointed questions since he resumed his role on Council.

    The outbursts from CAO Handrahan on Monday night revealed in no uncertain terms that he was very uncomfortable being questioned on how his staff performs their duties. His reaction was anything but ‘professional’, when addressing either a member of the public, or a member of Council.

    I would encourage everyone to watch the video recording of the meeting, in order to gain the full effect of CAO Handrahan’s aggressive comments directed first at a citizen, and then at one of our Councillors.

    Here is the link to the video – it’s now posted on YouTube.

    The two incidents described in the article begin at the 2:13:46 mark on the recording, and goes to the 2:23:42 mark, which is about 10 minutes of listening time.

  2. Happy news! bye bye Phil.. don’t let the door hit you on the way out … maybe we’ll save some money now on all those endless consultants and visioning sessions with well paid outsiders … ? Also, maybe the next guy won’t be so arrogant with the public that he is supposed to serve.

  3. Les Hicks says:

    The CAO doth protest too much, me thinks (with apologies to Will Shakespeare). After watching the video of the town hall meeting, it appears that Mr. Handrahan is indeed, in a non-professional manner (regardless of Councillor Evans’s praise), chastising members of the public and Town Councillors, in particular, Councillor Mesheau, for asking too many questions about decisions made by members of the town management staff. In response to Councillor Mesheau’s comment that “As a Councillor, I would hope to get the information so that when budget time comes, that an evaluation could be done to help a determination be made in regards to a line item in the budget”, Mr. Handrahan stated “To make that statement suggests that we’re just going off willy nilly spending money without a care…That’s unfair.”

    Well, as a concerned taxpayer, that is exactly what town management appears to have been doing, especially considering the “$500,000 contaminated soil affair”, as it later came to be known. Mr. Burke’s comments to Town Council regarding this series of bad decisions on his part were : “It is an unfortunate situation and, as we’ve said from the very start, thankfully the budget allows us to be able to remove the [contaminated] material; removing the material, we still think, it’s the right thing to do”, and “However, the good news is that there will be a property that was formerly contaminated in our municipality that will be cleaned up.” So in effect his reasoning is that thankfully the town has enough money in the budget to pay for his poorly thought out decision to swap land with CN on an ‘as is’ basis, so everything is okay.

    To date, no one has been held accountable for this waste of half a million dollars of taxpayers’ money. Mr. Burke, in his capacity as Manager of Corporate Projects, was directly responsible for this waste, as he stated in a Town Council meeting “Burke responded that he was the main person involved in the land transactions with CN.” Mr. Handrahan, as Chief Administrative Officer, was ultimately responsible for overseeing the actions of town management staff (the buck stops here). Perhaps that explains why he is so sensitive to legitimate questions raised by members of council and members of the public regarding actions taken by senior town management staff.

    One final thought – if a major error like this ended up costing a company in the private sector $500,000, would the board of directors accept the reasoning of the manager responsible that “thankfully the budget allows us to be able to remove the [contaminated] material; removing the material, we still think, it’s the right thing to do”, or would someone be looking for a new job?

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