Concerns about the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic dominated a telephone meeting that Sackville Town Council held more than a week ago on Monday, April 6.
The town released a 13-minute recording of the meeting today during which town council voted by a 7-1 margin to appoint Jamie Burke as Sackville’s new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).
Several parts of the recording are difficult to understand because of feedback, clicks, pops and sound distortion. A note on the town’s website also explains that 37 seconds have been removed “because of confidentiality concerns.”
“We can’t predict what the future holds for our community,” Councillor Shawn Mesheau is heard telling his council colleagues after noting that he had e-mailed them suggesting a delay in the CAO hiring process because of the COVID-19 crisis.
“We’re facing the unknown circumstances of what is to come and I believe it’s important to seek out what we do know in order to tackle the challenges ahead,” Mesheau said, adding that as CAO, Jamie Burke will require leadership from council and co-operation from the community during the pandemic.
Councillor Bill Evans, who moved the motion to appoint the new CAO, said Burke is the right person to lead the town in tough times.
“He’s a proven entity, he’s a real professional, he’s very competent,” Evans said — comments that were echoed by Councillor Michael Tower who seconded the motion.
“I really feel Jamie deserves this job. I think he’s got some learning to do,” Tower said. “I feel he is the right man now to lead us on during these tough times and if we’re willing as a council to step up and support him, I think we’re making the right choice.”
Councillor Joyce O’Neil also expressed strong support for Burke as CAO.
“He knows our town well, he knows our staff and I’m sure that with the support of the mayor and council and staff that he will be able to…(inaudible),” O’Neil said.
Councillor Allison Butcher said the town was fortunate that there were so many qualified competitors for the job.
“There was a lot of good candidates, but right from the beginning, I felt that Jamie Burke was the best candidate. In these times with COVID, there is even more reason to go with our first choice,” Butcher added. “He knows our community, he knows where we are at and what is happening here already and, as I said, he will hit the ground running.”
“Even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I would still vote in favour of Jamie as my first choice because I think he’s the best person for… (inaudible),” said Councillor Andrew Black.
Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said he agreed with all of the points made in support of appointing Burke.
Councillor Bruce Phinney, the only member to vote against the appointment, said it’s the wrong time to appoint a new CAO.
“The reason I’m voting against it is I feel that the other candidates that we had were much more qualified. Mr. Burke has a lot more to learn yet and he needs much more mentoring before he’s able to fill such a position,” Phinney said.
He added that Burke was responsible for a mistake that cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars — a reference to the discovery of contaminated soil on land that the town acquired from CN Rail for the Lorne Street flood control project.
Phinney also said he had been on previous CAO hiring committees that had not been very successful. (For background, see May 2017 coverage of Phinney’s opposition to the new CAO bylaw.)
After the vote to appoint Burke, Mayor John Higham asked members of council to send him suggestions for how future meetings could be conducted during the pandemic.
“It was difficult from this end to hear some of you,” Higham said. “So please give some thought as to how we might learn from this.”
For previous coverage, click here.
Excellent article, as usual.
The meeting on April 6 was listed as a “Special Council meeting”, which is normally open to the public and press, and does not allow any voting. Votes to be taken always happen at the “Regular Council” meeting which normally happens the following week. This raises the question of why last Monday’s “Special Council” meeting included voting on the appointment of a CAO.
Even more importantly, we are told that 37 seconds of the audio recording were edited out. Since the meeting would normally have been open to the public, any citizens and press in attendance would have seen and heard everything that happened at the meeting. The brief notice on the town website indicated the editing was due to concerns about confidentiality. Any editing would have been pointless – the “cat was already out of the bag”, so to speak.
I believe the public deserves a few explanations – why this ‘special council meeting’ included voting on the appointment of the new CAO, why this audio recording was allowed to be edited, who gave the authorization to do the editing, whether the official guidelines allow for tampering with official records of meetings, and finally – whether any previous recordings have ever been edited.
Councillor Tower commented that, while he supported the choice of Mr. Burke, the newly appointed CAO has “got some learning to do.” This, and the comments of the supporting councillors, raises suspicion that experience was not the main concern in making this appointment, but rather, comfort with a known entity, ‘one of us,’ who got away with a big and costly bungle before. What future costly decisions may come our way?
It could be just a matter of time until we find out ‘what is next’ … and the incident you mention was not the only ‘bungle’ along the way.