Sackville Mayor Shawn Mesheau has denied that he violated conflict of interest rules when he chaired council meetings that discussed and voted on changes to the town’s zoning bylaw clearing the way for a plastic pipe factory at 318 Walker Road.
The mayor’s brother, Peter Mesheau, is vice-president of marketing and communications at Atlantic Industries Limited (AIL), which is planning to build and operate the factory.
“I am not in a conflict of interest,” the mayor said during the public question period at Tuesday’s town council meeting.
“It is up to each individual councillor to declare a conflict of interest,” he added. “I am not in a conflict of interest.”
After an e-mail request for more information, the mayor responded today that council was dealing with a zoning change that was not specific to any one business.
“Council considered a text amendment to the zoning by-law, which applied to all industrial zoned properties in the town and not an individual property or variety of properties owned by any particular company,” Mesheau wrote.
“This is why I provided the response I did at the meeting Tuesday evening, where I stated that I am not in a conflict of interest.”
At its meeting on February 14 with Mayor Mesheau presiding, council discussed an application from Andrew Fraser and Mike Wilson seeking a zoning change that would allow companies to build and operate in the 177-acre industrial park in the Walker Road area without having to connect to town water and sewer services.
Although company names weren’t given in the town planner’s staff report, Andrew Fraser owns Can-Tech Construction and Mike Wilson is CEO of the AIL Group of Companies, which includes Atlantic Industries Limited.
At that February meeting, council decided to proceed with the zoning change and set March 14 as the date for a public hearing.
Mesheau also chaired the March 14 meeting. No one showed up for the public hearing which had been advertised on the town’s website as a hearing on a zoning text amendment with no mention of the plastic pipe factory and storage facility that AIL was planning to build. Council voted to give first reading (preliminary approval) to the zoning change.
On April 11, with the mayor presiding, council voted to give second and third readings finally clearing the way for site preparations for an AIL pipe factory at 318 Walker Road.
What the law says
Sackville Town Council’s Code of Conduct states that members of council “are committed to making decisions impartially and in the best interests of the Town and recognize the importance of fully observing the requirements of the Local Governance Act, with regard to the disclosure and avoidance of conflicts of interest.”
New Brunswick’s Local Governance Act says a member of council has a conflict of interest if a “family associate” would benefit financially from a matter dealt with by council.
It defines a “family associate” as “a council member’s spouse or common-law partner, child, parent or sibling.
The law requires members with such a conflict to disclose it and “immediately withdraw from the meeting room while the matter is under consideration or put to a vote.”
Professor Geoff Martin, who specializes in municipal politics and who served as a Sackville town councillor from 1998 to 2004, reviewed the summary sent to him by Warktimes and responded with the following statement:
On the face of it I believe that Mayor Mesheau should have declared a conflict of interest under the municipal and provincial rules, in dealings between the Town of Sackville and Atlantic Industries Limited.
Law Professor Nicole O’Byrne, who teaches at the University of New Brunswick in Fredericton, also received my summary as well as an audio recording of the mayor saying he was not in a conflict of interest:
I really don’t know enough about whether there is a real or perceived conflict of interest here. However, I will say that relying on self-declarations can be problematic for obvious reasons. There should be a way to contest a self-declaration of conflict of interest by using the Code of Conduct process. If there is evidence of a real or perceived conflict of interest then someone should be able to raise it as a breach of the Code of Conduct. That should trigger a 3rd party investigation.
Warktimes has filed a complaint under the Code of Conduct, to read it, click here.