Voters in Sackville may choose a new mayor and council in the municipal elections on May 10 without knowing exactly why the present council voted to sanction Bruce Phinney twice for violating its new Code of Conduct.
Acting Mayor Ron Aiken says council’s decision to require Phinney to undergo training for his latest violation is a confidential matter that was discussed behind closed doors and under current rules, no further information can be released.
“As I mentioned to you in an e-mail, that is a personnel matter and out of respect for the privacy of everyone involved, that’s how we do it,” Aiken said during Monday’s council meeting.
“I think that is pretty consistent with how every municipality in the province would do that,” he added.
The Acting Mayor was responding to a question from Warktimes about why no information is being released to the public concerning what Phinney did to violate the Code.
“If you’re claiming it’s a personnel matter, I’m saying it’s also a political matter because it involves an elected official and not an administrative staff person,” I said.
Councillor Andrew Black agreed.
“I agree that elected officials are separate from staff with regards to information pertaining to possible Code of Conduct violations,” he said, adding that councillors are answerable to the voters who elected them.
Black suggested council may try to find ways to release more information about the decision to sanction Phinney.
“This is something that we will possibly look at in the next little while,” he said.
Councillor Bill Evans said he shared Black’s feeling the matter should be more public or transparent.
“But it’s not about what I want, it’s about following the rules,” Evans added.
“There are lots of things that I hear in confidence that I think the voters should hear about, but I am constrained by the Code of Conduct, so I can’t share that information,” he said referring to rules that prohibit members of council from disclosing matters discussed in closed meetings.
Evans also said he would like to see the rules changed in this case and would try to convince his council colleagues that it’s worth doing, but in the meantime, the rules have to be followed.
He also suggested that anyone who disclosed information to Warktimes may have acted inappropriately.
He was referring to a recent story suggesting Phinney may have criticized CAO Jamie Burke in an e-mail response to town residents concerned about the proposal for a small-scale slaughterhouse in the Sackville industrial park.
To read that story, click here.
Warnings about Code
Last May, two months after council passed its Code of Conduct, a Mount Allison University politics professor warned that it could shut down debate and dissent because it places members of council under the supervision of their colleagues as well as town staff.
“Intelligent people can…disagree on what is offensive or disrespectful. Skins can be so thin, that this invites a never-ending litany of complaints against anyone who raises their heads off the desk,” Geoff Martin wrote in an e-mail to Warktimes.
Martin who served on Sackville Town Council himself for six years added:
“I can’t imagine being a dissenter under these rules because this is a ready mechanism to shut down the dissenter.”
To read my report on the experts who warned about the new Code, including New Brunswick’s Ombudsman, click here.