Phinney cited for violating Sackville’s new Code of Conduct

Councillor Bruce Phinney participated in Wednesday’s council meeting from his car in the Town Hall parking lot

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.

Mayor Higham thanks councillors for their time during Wednesday’s online meeting

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.”

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7 Responses to Phinney cited for violating Sackville’s new Code of Conduct

  1. Gordon Heffler says:

    All these CHILDREN need a bigger sandbox!

  2. Sharon Hicks says:

    This latest updated version of the Code of Conduct for Councilors was passed in March of this year, which added even more ‘control features’ to the previous version from 2017. Here is the link to the document, located on the Town website – https://sackville.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/03/271-Code-of-Conduct-By-Law.pdf

    When you read through the entire by-law, as I have done several times, and consider the potential ramifications of each individual section, it presents as a document seemingly designed to control Councilors to the highest degree possible, as Councilor Phinney has pointed out.

    While it is indeed essential for all elected officials to present themselves with a high degree of professionalism and courtesy, and to represent the best interests of the citizens who elect them, one could ask why this ‘extreme’ level of control is deemed to be necessary, and by whom.

    If I were considering running for Sackville Town Council, after reading this document I would definitely have reservations about putting myself in that position where I would basically be ‘muzzled’, unable to speak up to represent the best interests of our citizens without threat of personal reprimand.

    Who is Council elected to represent – the citizens or the bureaucracy?

    • Harold says:

      It is rather confusing — perhaps intentional — to refer to “elected officials” as “public servants”. It implies that they serve at the pleasure of the Town, not the will of the electorate. I wonder why all the other councillors accepted this? Do they think they are Town employees?

  3. Percy Best says:

    If Councillor Phinney said something at a meeting, and that portion of the meeting has never been revealed to the public, then how the heck can he be subjected to a bylaw infraction that says that any councillor cannot reveal to the public something that was told in confidence. It does make one wonder WHO actually owes WHO an apology here.

    If the Mayor reveals to the citizens of Sackvile, the 37 seconds of audio that the Town is hiding, then they possibly have a beef with Councillor Phinney not abiding by this bylaw, but that will not be the case until we all hear the audio.

  4. Joel B says:

    Bruce Phinney is one of the best councillors Sackville has ever had and something doesn’t sit well with me here .

  5. Les Hicks says:

    Thanks for another informative report about decisions made by Town Council at its meetings Bruce. I have great respect for all the members of Town Council and appreciate the many hours that they work on behalf of their constituents. I am concerned though with the language in the Code of Conduct. To a citizen of Sackville who reads through it, it could be construed as a means of preventing Councillors who have legitimate issues with decisions made by Town staff or by other Councillors in Council meetings from expressing their concerns to the constituents that they represent.
    In the Code Of Conduct, under ‘Statement of Principles and Values’, it reads:
    “7. Members are expected to perform their functions of office with integrity, accountability
    and transparency and conduct themselves in a professional manner at all times.
    8. Members have a fiduciary duty to act honestly, in good faith, and in best interests of the
    Town and its Residents.”
    According to the Code of Conduct, who are the Councillors expected to be accountable and transparent to – the Town Management, or the constituents that they represent? As stated previously, I have great respect for the members of Town Council, and I have no doubt that in making the decision to select Mr. Burke over the other interviewed candidates for the position of Town CAO, the Councillors who voted in favour of his selection were acting honestly and in good faith, but the question of whether it was in the best interests of the Town and it’s Residents remains. I must say that as a taxpayer I have to respectfully disagree with this decision. Given Mr. Burke’s previous apparent lack of due diligence leading to the roughly $500,000 cost to taxpayers to clean up CN’s mess, there are citizens who consider the selection of Mr. Burke to not be in the best interests of the Town and Residents. It’s interesting to note that Councillor Phinney was the only member of Council to vote against this appointment, specifically for that reason, and also because he thought that there were other candidates who were better qualified. Was not Councillor Phinney, in voting against the appointment of Mr. Burke, also acting in good faith and in what he believed was in the best interests of the Town and its Residents?
    The Code of Conduct states that individuals “who have reason to believe that the Code has been breached in any way are encouraged to bring their concerns forward.” So, as an academic exercise, according to the wording of the Code of Conduct, can an individual constituent or group of constituents file a formal complaint against the Councillors who voted in favour of this appointment on the grounds that it was not in the best interests of the Town and Residents, considering Mr. Burke’s previous performance?

  6. Azi says:

    In my experience, Mr. Phiney is a very reliable, honest, and responsible councilor. This kind of action by some other councilors/mayor makes me have even more respect for him.

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