Acting Mayor Ron Aiken says he did not receive Warktimes e-mails asking for comment that were sent on Wednesday evening to his campaign e-mail address listed on the Elections New Brunswick website. He did receive a follow-up phone message on Thursday, but says he did not respond because he was feeling unwell.
Warktimes sent a series of questions to both mayoralty candidates similar to ones that CAO Jamie Burke and Fire Chief Craig Bower refused to answer on Tuesday.
Burke said then that he could not comment on personnel matters although the town posted a notice today on its website saying it “takes these allegations very seriously and we are initiating a process to review the matter.”
When asked who would conduct the review, what powers the reviewers would have and when the results might be known, Burke sent this e-mail response:
We have initiated a course of action, which is yet to be finalized. However, we will take the time we need to do it professionally and thoroughly, but we are not able to provide any further details at this time.
Mayoralty candidate Shawn Mesheau responded to the Warktimes e-mail by saying that while he was too busy for an interview, he would provide a statement. He suggested the town needs to hire a qualified human resources manager or consultant to handle such issues.
“Anytime that allegations of this nature are brought forward they need to be taken seriously. I am genuinely concerned which is something I have conveyed,” Mesheau’s statement says.
“As a sitting councillor I am legally obligated to ensure confidentiality in matters of this nature,” it adds.
To read, Mesheau’s full statement, click here.
Mayoralty candidate Ron Aiken responded today by repeating the Warktimes questions followed by his answers (in bold type):
Question #1. Firefighters who resigned in 2018 and 2020 say they sent their letters of resignation to the Chief and the CAO with copies to Town Council. The most recent one from Kevin Scott was sent to members of Town Council in December, then re-sent last month when he received no response from members of council. (I am attaching his letter.)
(a) Were you aware of his letter?
(b) What steps did you take to look into allegations of bullying and favouritism contained in his letter.
(c) What did you do to investigate allegations of discrimination against a female member of Sackville Fire & Rescue?
Aiken’s answer: This was a letter of resignation and, although contained some troubling comments, no formal complaint was filed. Without a complaint, we can’t do much. In any of the court proceedings we hear about in the news involving such accusations, no action is taken without a complaint.
Question #2. If you are elected Mayor, how would you address these concerns?
Aiken’s answer: I would encourage anyone, male or female, who felt harassed, discriminated against, or bullied to lodge a formal complaint to ensure a fair hearing of their issue.
Question #3. The new Mayor will appoint the Liaison Councillors for Public Safety. How would you ensure that you and the Liaison Councillors have more contact with volunteer firefighters so that members of council can hear their concerns?
Aiken’s answer: The way our current system works is that the concerns of the firefighters should be taken to their superiors and, if no resolution can be reached, then they can go through the grievance and appeal procedure. If the next Council wishes to, the Fire Department by-law could be re-written to allow more contact between firefighters and Liaison Councillors and/or the Mayor. I’d have no problem with that.
4. A number of firefighters — both current and former — say the Grievance Committee and Appeal procedures outlined in Bylaw 248, which governs the Fire Department, have never been implemented. If you are elected Mayor, will you commit to seeing that these Grievance and Appeal procedures are put in place?
Aiken’s answer: The grievance and appeal procedures are in place in the Bylaw. None of the complaints you have talked about have reached that stage since I’ve been doing the Mayor’s duties.
NOTE: All firefighters Warktimes interviewed said there was no grievance committee or effective appeal process in place, noting all complaints must go through the chain of command to the fire chief. CAO Jamie Burke has confirmed that the grievance committee outlined in the bylaw has not been used.