Sackville’s Chief Administrative Officer says that the consulting firm the town has hired to review workplace practices in the fire department will decide on its own who will be interviewed in the course of its investigation.
Jamie Burke was responding to an e-mail from Warktimes asking if the review, to be conducted by the Montana Consulting Group of Moncton, would include interviews with firefighters who have resigned in the past 5-6 years.
“The consultant will lead and determine the entire process, including interviews, and the Town will just help with logistics and scheduling,” Burke said in his e-mail reply.
On Tuesday, the town announced the “independent third-party” assessment after Warktimes published articles in which former and current firefighters called for an end to years of bullying, sexism and discrimination in Sackville Fire & Rescue.
“The Town takes such matters very seriously and a review process is now underway to understand if there is validity in these complaints, and to identify and recommend areas of improvement,” said the announcement posted on the town’s website.
It promised that the human resources (HR) consulting firm would also review the bylaw that governs the fire department in consultation with firefighters who volunteer there.
Current and former volunteers say that grievance procedures outlined in the bylaw have never been implemented and that the fire chief, CAO and members of town council have failed to respond to complaints that also include allegations of harassment, favouritism and unsafe work practices in the department.
Councillors weigh in
Meantime, four councillors, who are running for re-election, say they’re pleased that the town is conducting an independent, workplace assessment of Sackville Fire & Rescue.
Allison Butcher, Andrew Black, Bill Evans and Michael Tower made their comments Tuesday during a candidates’ forum broadcast on CHMA-FM and posted on the campus/community station’s website.
“I would like to say that, as a female in a male-dominated world,” Butcher said, “I will ensure that this keeps on going until we get answers and solutions.”
She acknowledged receiving copies of two resignation letters former firefighters sent to town council and said that she struggled with how to respond while following confidentiality rules that govern personnel matters.
Andrew Black said that as a councillor who sits on the human resources (HR) committee, he also struggled with issues of confidentiality.
“When the letters of resignation were e-mailed to council, it was brought up in HR because that’s where it belongs and we discussed and it was left in the hands of town staff,” Black said.
“I can’t really say much more than that because of confidentiality, but that’s where it was and that’s where we find ourselves today,” he added.
‘Not our place to get involved’
“If bullying is taking place in this town, that is wrong, it is not supported by me, it is not supported by council, it’s not supported by our bylaws and our policies,” said Bill Evans who also sits on council’s HR committee.
“It’s a little bit like the parable about the blind people touching an elephant,” Evans said of the allegations raised by current and former firefighters.
“If all you know about this matter is what a couple of individuals have said — a handful of individuals have said — then that’s what you know, but surely everybody knows there’s more to it than that.”
Evans said the allegations are now being investigated and in the meantime, it’s important for councillors to follow due process.
“Council has been apprised of what staff is doing and we are following it with interest, but it is not our place to get involved,” he added. “This is being handled confidentially.”
Michael Tower said bullying, harassment and discrimination have no place in the town’s workforce.
“The chief and the deputy chiefs, they all do the best they can and so I’m not going to criticize them [in] any way, shape or form,” Tower added.
He said the CAO is doing his job by commissioning a comprehensive, independent investigation that will produce solutions for town council to act on.
“I want a good resolution out of this,” Tower concluded, “so I support and say ‘thank you Jamie Burke.'”
To listen to the four councillors’ full responses to CHMA journalist Erica Butler’s questions about Sackville Fire & Rescue, click on the media player below. (The recording runs just over 17 minutes). Note: Bruce Phinney, who is also seeking re-election to town council, did not participate in the candidates’ forums.