Sackville Councillor Bruce Phinney says he’s considering the best way to challenge council’s two-month suspension of his life, health and dental insurance after someone added words to a motion that council passed in July to authorize it.
“I’m just not going to let this go because it’s wrong,” he said today during a telephone interview.
Phinney was in Alberta visiting family on July 12th when council unanimously passed a motion imposing sanctions against him for violating council’s code of conduct by publicly questioning the town’s hiring policies and suggesting university students who are not originally from Sackville shouldn’t be allowed to vote in municipal elections here.
The sanctions included:
Suspension of the remuneration paid to Councillor Phinney for a period of two months.
Phinney says he understood that his pay was being suspended, but had no idea his benefits were included until he visited a pharmacy on September 4th to have three emergency prescriptions filled and was told his card had been cancelled.
When he asked town officials what was happening, they e-mailed him a motion from the minutes of the July 12th meeting that read:
Suspension of the remuneration and benefits paid to Councillor Phinney for a period of two months. (Emphasis added).
“Someone changed that motion after the fact and that’s unacceptable,” Phinney says. “I’m not going to let them get away with this, at least not if I can help it.”
When council met last week, Councillor Michael Tower said he would not have moved the motion sanctioning Phinney if he had known that his benefits would be suspended along with his pay.
“The benefits were mentioned during our [previous closed-door] discussion,” Tower said.
“I didn’t agree with that part of it and when I got the motion to read and it did not include benefits [that] was the reason why I made that motion,” he told council.
“I wouldn’t have made it if I felt benefits were part of it.”
In a later e-mail to Warktimes, Tower explained that while he accepted an outside investigator’s recommendation to suspend Phinney’s remuneration: “No where in the report did it mention suspending benefits.”
He added that he’s especially concerned that Phinney was not notified about the suspension of his benefits.
“I think taking away health benefits is more of a personal action and too extreme,” Tower wrote in his e-mail.
“It concerns me, too, that after the motion was read and passed by council, the suspension of benefits was added to the motion in the minutes.”
‘A little error’
When questioned about the added words at last week’s council meeting, CAO Jamie Burke described it as “a little error in the minutes.”
He said he had talked to a legal representative who advised that “the commonly understood legal definition of remuneration includes benefits,” and added that the additional words had not changed the meaning of the motion.
Councillors Allison Butcher and Bill Evans said they understood that remuneration would include Phinney’s benefits.