Sackville Town Council has found that Councillor Bruce Phinney violated its new Code of Conduct by disclosing confidential information during a council meeting on April 6th.
At an online meeting Wednesday night, councillors approved a motion authorizing Mayor Higham to send Phinney a formal letter of reprimand for violating a section of the Code that prohibits the release of such information.
Council also approved a second motion calling on Phinney to acknowledge publicly that he breached the Code and to sign a statement affirming that he will abide by its provisions.
The motion indicates that Phinney had refused to sign such a statement even though members of council were required to do so within seven days of passing the Code on March 9th.
At the time, Phinney was the only councillor to vote against it.
“The Code of Conduct that we’re putting in place, to me and this is my personal opinion, is to kind of keep everybody quiet,” Phinney said at the time.
To read the two motions council passed, click here.
What did Phinney do?
Wednesday night’s council meeting lasted for more than an hour and a half, but most of it was held behind closed doors.
The public motions do not say what Phinney did to breach the Code of Conduct and the councillor himself won’t reveal that either, but it is known that it relates to council’s debate over the hiring of Jamie Burke as the town’s new CAO, the only item on the April 6 agenda.
That meeting was held by telephone with a 13-minute recording released more than a week later accompanied by a note that 37-seconds had been deleted “because of confidentiality concerns.” To read coverage of that meeting, click here.
Phinney is heard on that recording opposing the appointment of Burke.
“The reason I’m voting against it is I feel that the other candidates that we had were much more qualified,” Phinney said.
Council interviewed a short list of six candidates including Burke.
Some of the candidates were recruited for the CAO position by the Halifax-based firm KBRS. On its website, the company stresses the need for confidentiality about candidates during the hiring process.
It appears likely that Phinney disclosed information about one or more of the short-listed candidates during the 37 seconds of council’s telephone meeting not released to the public.
Such disclosure, if it were to be made public, would not only breach the new Code of Conduct, but could put the town in jeopardy of violating provincial privacy laws that protect confidential personal information held by public bodies including municipalities.
As Wednesday’s online meeting ended, Mayor Higham noted wearily it had been a long one adding, “Thank you all for the extensive time tonight.”