Ombud rejects conflict of interest complaint against former Sackville CAO

Ombud Marie-France Pelletier (Government photo)

New Brunswick’s Ombud has ruled that Sackville’s former Chief Administrative Officer Jamie Burke was not in a conflict of interest when he refused to release a consultant’s report on the operations of the town’s fire department.

Christine LeBlanc, a senior investigator with the Ombud’s office said that provincial law defines conflict of interest in terms of possible financial gain and there was none in this case.

LeBlanc was responding to a complaint filed more than a year ago by Sackville resident Les Hicks, who alleged CAO Burke was in a conflict of interest because he was one of the managers the firefighters were criticizing for not responding to their concerns.

Burke commissioned a consultant’s report on bullying, favouritism and harassment within the fire department, but did not release it to town council, volunteers in the fire department, or the public.

Members of council and volunteer firefighters were given a verbal briefing on its 20 recommendations, but the written report has been kept secret on the grounds that it’s about confidential, personnel matters.


The CAO hired Montana Consulting Group of Moncton to conduct a workplace assessment of Sackville Fire & Rescue after Warktimes published several stories based on testimony from current and former firefighters.

About 17 had resigned over a five-year period and several said no one would listen to their complaints about bullying and harassment.

Current firefighter Laura Thurston told Warktimes that neither Burke nor former CAO Phil Handrahan would meet with her to discuss her concerns.

“They wouldn’t even sit with me; they wouldn’t listen to what I had to say,” Thurston said.

Hicks says Christine LeBlanc, the senior investigator in the Ombud’s office told him the Local Governance Act defines conflict of interest in terms of financial gain and besides, the firefighters’ criticisms of Burke were based on his alleged failure to address their concerns, not that he was personally involved in any harassment and bullying.

This was the Ombud’s second ruling on complaints relating to the Montana report.

Last April, the Ombud ruled that the town was right to keep the report secret.

To read, the Ombud’s official response to Les Hicks, click here.

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8 Responses to Ombud rejects conflict of interest complaint against former Sackville CAO

  1. Sharon Hicks says:

    Could it be that the definition of ‘conflict of interest’ has been written too narrowly?

    If ‘financial gain’ is the only criterion required, then it basically allows the proverbial fox to manage and control the proverbial henhouse – as long as he doesn’t make any money doing it. Lots of eggs and chicken dinners, but at least he’s not in conflict of interest.!! Sad.

  2. Tim Reiffenstein says:

    I am amazed that blame for the dysfunctional culture of the fire department is almost exclusively reported in these pages as being the fault of the former CAOs. Clearly there is much more to this story.

    • Jon says:

      Isn’t the CAO the primary person responsible for managing the town’s affairs? A firefighter has said CAOs failed to address problems. And a report on the problems was hidden from the public. If people suspect CAOs of failures, who is to blame for that suspicion but the CAOs themselves?

    • Wayne Feindel Puppet of the People. says:

      Excellent observation Citizen Reiffenstein. The Mayor is the CEO of the community and the only councillor who can directly communicate with the CAO. As chief Justice of the community the office of the Mayor is responsible for leadership in all departments and pointing out that anyone who reads the act that conflict of interest did not exist in any financial way. Having said that just because one holds a senior staff position doesn’t make it one’s business. A wise CAO might consider approaching the matter as a citizen and take advise from the Mayor as to the wishes of council.

  3. Tim Reiffenstein says:

    Jon. I think what happened here is that the CAO fell on his sword and chose to keep the dirty laundry WITHIN the SFD confidential. He is being vilified for it, including by complainants who would rather perpetuate the narrative that it is Burke/Handrahan’s fault rather than those closer to them in the chain of command. Have we even heard any other names that might be culpable? Burke/Handrahan have been amongst the better CAOs we have had in the last 20 years. Who has been better?

    • Kelly says:

      The statement of “who has been better?” Leads one to understand you haven’t been around Sackville for more than 20 years as we’ve had so many payoffs and golden handshakes since the 80’s it would be hard to be any worse for sure.

      • Mike Gallant says:

        Kelly – Tim is part of the salaried, tenured, Intelligentsia – the part that elected our soon to be Mayor. Once new Council takes over, he’ll morph into an an apologist

  4. Percy Best says:

    I am so looking forward to ‘The New Day that is Dawning’. Come on January 1st.

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