Councillor Bruce Phinney is losing two months’ pay (about $1,300) and the right to travel on behalf of the town for violating sections of council’s Code of Conduct.
He will also be required to undergo “one-on-one coaching to discuss effective communications strategies.”
Town Council imposed these latest sanctions last night acting on recommendations from an independent investigator who was paid about $10,000 to look into complaints from one of Phinney’s council colleagues. The motion sanctioning Phinney passed unanimously. To read it, click here.
Confidential personnel matter
During last night’s council question period, Deputy Mayor Andrew Black declined to say who made the complaints and what Phinney had done to violate the Code saying such matters are confidential, human resources matters.
But Councillor Bill Evans pointed out that Phinney himself could give details and when reached by phone in Alberta where he is visiting family, Phinney said the complaints against him stemmed from two public comments he made in February.
During a council meeting on February 14, Phinney served notice he would be voting against a new hiring policy that gave the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) the power “to appoint and employ, suspend, and dismiss for cause all employees of the town” without having to consult council.
Phinney suggested town hiring practices were unfair “where family members are being hired” and added, “there was one that I felt was a conflict of interest.” To read a transcript of his remarks, click here.
Phinney said he did not name any names, but last night, town council accepted the investigator’s finding that he had violated Article 4 of the Code which “provides a framework to guide ethical conduct that upholds the integrity of the town and the high standards of professional conduct the public expects of its local government elected representatives.”
The council motion sanctioning Phinney also said he violated Article 19 which decrees that “no member shall use indecent, abusive, or insulting words or expressions toward any
other member, town administration or any member of the public.”
Phinney said the second complaint against him involved remarks he made on February 24 during one of council’s committee meetings on municipal reform.
He said then that he would like to see Sackville divided into four electoral wards, adding that Mt. A. students should not vote “because they are only citizens here for four years and sometimes some of the decisions that are made by them can influence us for a very long time.”
Phinney quoted professors at the university as suggesting that Megan Mitton won her narrow 11-vote victory in the 2018 provincial election “because of the fact that the students were allowed to vote.”
He says he was referring to a panel discussion that Warktimes covered, where professors agreed that the student vote helped put Mitton over the edge.
Phinney added during last night’s phone interview he believes that students who come from outside should vote in their home ridings in provincial elections instead of casting their ballots here. To read a transcript of Phinney’s remarks during the February 24 committee meeting, click here.
In sanctioning Phinney for his remarks about student voting, town council cited Article 9(d) of the Code which states that “members shall serve, and be seen to serve, the welfare and interest of the town as a whole and the community at large in a conscientious and diligent manner and approach decision making with an open mind.”
“I think council should have waited until I got back from vacation and had the opportunity to address them personally,” Phinney said last night.
However, CAO Jamie Burke has since confirmed that Phinney was invited to a closed-door meeting on June 27, before he left for his vacation, but says he declined to attend it. During that meeting the investigator presented her report and findings.
Phinney says he was informed of the meeting, but was given no details about the human resources matter that would be discussed and an e-mail request to town staff asking for more information wasn’t answered. He also says he told the mayor he couldn’t attend because he wasn’t feeling well. In any case, he adds, he needed time to prepare a response to the investigators’ report.
“The investigator took six weeks to write her report and I felt I would need at least a couple of weeks to respond to it,” he said.
Mayor Mesheau then invited Phinney to respond in writing by noon on July 5. But when council received no written submissions from him, it went ahead and imposed the sanctions the investigator recommended.
It’s not the first time Phinney has been found in violation of the Code of Conduct.
Town council decided that Phinney violated it during a telephone meeting on April 6th 2020 that was released to the public more than a week later with a note saying 37-seconds had been had been deleted “because of confidentiality concerns.”
Phinney is heard on the recording opposing the appointment of Jamie Burke as the new CAO.
“The reason I’m voting against it is I feel that the other candidates that we had were much more qualified,” Phinney said.
Warktimes reported at the time that it seemed likely that Phinney had referred to one or more of the other candidates interviewed for the CAO position during the 37-second gap on the recording.
Councillors approved a motion authorizing then Mayor John 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 would abide by its provisions.
To read coverage, click here.
In December 2020, Phinney was ordered to undergo training after his colleagues found that he violated council’s Code of Conduct apparently by making derogatory comments about Jamie Burke.
Phinney was responding then to an e-mail from a Sackville resident that he sent by mistake to a member of town staff who apparently drew it to the attention of the CAO.
To read coverage, click here.
So, if I understand this correctly, a member of Town Council filed a complaint against Councilor Phinney.
That complaint spurred the hiring of an ‘outside’ investigator to look into the allegations and provide feedback and recommendations.
Then, the Councilor who filed the complaint participated in discussions about what should be done about Councilor Phinney.
Then, that same Councilor voted to adopt the ‘closed-doors’ decision which spelled out what Councilor Phinney’s ‘punishment’ would be.
Is that not a Conflict of Interest for the Councilor who filed the complaint?
Is that not like having your accuser sitting on the jury in a Court trial?
How exactly is that a ‘fair process’ ??
I have been waiting for change to this council for quite sometime, but my complaints and concerns were never taken seriously. Why? Because I don’t live in town limits so it’s “not their problem”. This attitude was not echoed by the entire council, but I second Bruce Phinney’s concerns. January 1, 2023 I’ll once more be participating in town council matters. Kudos to Bruce for speaking out but how unfortunate that he’s been treated in this manner.
The town has a code of conduct, but no one to investigate alleged violations, so they hired an outsider to do so for $10,000?
The investigator’s conclusions look as though the person doesn’t have enough expertise in this area. That’s demonstrated by him or her concluding that Phinney “violated Article 4 of the Code”. Look at the code.
Article 4 is nothing more than a preamble to the code subtitled FRAMEWORK AND INTERPRETATION:
4. This Code provides a framework to guide ethical conduct which that upholds the integrity
of the Town and the high standards of professional conduct the public expects of its local
government elected representatives. This Code is intended to supplement and not replace
existing legislation governing the conduct of Members
It’s a description of the Code, that’s all. There’s nothing prescriptive in it that defines what Councillors are supposed to do or not do. Rules are contained in Articles 7 to 39. It’s no more possible to be “in breach of article 4” than it is to be “in breach of” Article 1
1. This By-Law may be cited as the “Code of Conduct for Members of Council”
because neither of them contain any rules. They’re simply descriptive preambles.
What does it say about the Council that it claims Phinney violated Article 4? That they didn’t understand Article 4 isn’t a rule Councillors have to obey, or that they didn’t even bother to read the Code?
The Council sounds like they were fishing for excuses to censure Phinney. Whatever we may think about Phinney’s opinions on something like voting and residency, is it really in the community’s interest that our elected representatives are being made to feel afraid to speak openly about issues, that their pay can be withheld because they criticised something, and that the Council lacks the basic respect and decency to wait until a colleague is back from his holiday before censuring him?
In addition to my previous comment, I will add the following thoughts …
The fact that the as-yet unidentified Councilor who filed the complaint against Councilor Phinney did not recuse themselves from the discussions and the vote on the motion which decided what Councilor Phinney’s penalty would be, is an affront to ‘democratic justice’.
As a ‘real-life’ example, if you accuse your neighbour of damaging your property, or insulting yourself or a family member, are you given the right to judge as well as penalize that neighbour?
No, ”democratic justice” dictates you would not. That decision would fall to a third party – a judge and/or jury would make that determination. And, if you did happen to take the law into your own hands by punishing that neighbour yourself, then you yourself would be charged.
So, for Councilor Phinney’s accuser to have played a role in determining and applying the sanctions against him, is tantamount to holding a “Kangaroo Court”.
Next, one has to ask whether it is even ‘legal’ to take away someone’s ‘earnings’ for 2 months, and expect them to ‘do their job’ anyway? I can understand putting someone on ‘suspension without pay’, (not that I’m advocating that …), but this is the exact opposite.
If Councilor Phinney should choose not to continue to perform his duties as Councilor while he is not being paid for that role, would that then result in more charges being laid against him?
I know what councillor launched this and why. Rookie mistake and I’m hopeful she will be made to come forward and admit it on the record to the taxpayers of the community she says she represents and cares about. But maybe since this councillor is a one issue politician it’s not a concern of wasting the tax payers dollars?
Just one more example of the CAO and this council trying to get rid of Bruce for sticking up for the common people of this town. Every time he speaks up someone is on his back. Sure hope the CAO and most of this council are voted out come fall. I have not figured out yet why most of these councilors are on council. Is it just to back up Jamie?
I think it was a conflict of interest and you can’t always say things with sunshine and roses.
I think they should have waited for Mr.Phinney to be back from his vacation . It’s in poor taste when he isn’t even in town. It could have waited. I also think it’s a waste of $10,000 to Investigate this .
Mr. Phinney needs to stop embarrassing himself. He does nothing that is productive or move council forward. He does nothing but appease the facebook drama queens.
That council is embarrassing, Bruce sticks up for people. Maybe they should suspend the rest of the council and leave it to Bruce to run.
Mr. Phinney was the only councilor that listened to the people, the rest of them up there are there to listen to themselves. Bring him back and give the tax payers back the $10,000 you wasted on this. I for one am so glad this council is gone soon. I actually welcome new members from Dorcehster and the LSDs. Maybe they will have some common sense on managing the tax payer’s dollars. This council only does things in their own interest and they think that slapping a solar panel on everything will solve climate change. Yet they let people destroy an entire forest for a plastic plant when plastic manufacturing and plastics are one of the largest contributors to climate change and so is deforestation, give me a break,
Climate change isn’t the problem–order followers are the problem.
This council doing this to Bruce Phinney as an elected official, during his vaction of all times, is a new low. He is an elected representaive of the people. What a vile lot we have running this town. I for one am going to call our reps and thank them for electing Jenifer as the new CAO. We need outside help to clean up this lot and all their closed door meetings, they deliberalty keep the publiic in the dark, that’s why they want Bruce out. They forget who pays their salaries Bruce should be getting his.