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.