Citing his concerns over potential conflicts of interest, Tantramar Councillor Matt Estabrooks blocked the appointment of his Ward 4 election opponent Sabine Dietz last night to the town’s Climate Change Advisory Committee (CCAC).
“I would suggest that appointed members of the CCAC not be individuals who make a living working in the areas of climate change adaptation and mitigation for their own protection as well as ours,” Estabrooks told council.
He was speaking against a motion that would have appointed Dietz to the advisory committee, along with Mt. A. environmental studies student Mikko McGregor Corson and retired meteorologist Dan Matthews of Dorchester.
They had been recommended to replace three members of the CCAC who recently resigned.
Estabrooks objected that the three were being appointed to full terms on the committee — McGregor Corson for two years, Dietz and Matthews for three — while the bylaw governing the CCAC says appointees replacing a member who resigns should serve the remainder of the term of the member they’re replacing.
“I feel this motion must be rewritten to identify the correct appointment dates and term lengths for the proposed replacement members,” Estabrooks said.
No public call for committee replacements
Estabrooks said that he’d been approached “by some very environmentally conscious and concerned constituents” who were disappointed that the three replacements had been chosen without any public call for expressions of interest.
“While researching this for them, I discovered that there is not a recruitment process in our current CCAC terms of reference, but I would recommend that one be added upon the next review,” Estabrooks added.
“I am asking to have the process that was used to identify these current recommended committee members — replacement members — documented in writing to council so that we have transparency with the current process and for our record going forward,” he said.
Conflict of interest
Estabrooks’ concerns over potential conflicts of interest seemed to be aimed directly at Dietz, the former Sackville councillor who ran against him unsuccessfully last fall in Tantramar’s Ward 4.
Dietz holds a PhD in biology and has worked for 30 years in the environmental field as a scientist for Parks Canada, a climate change consultant and for a variety of non-governmental organizations on conservation issues, endangered species and climate change adaptation.
She is currently executive director of ClimAtlantic, a regional organization that provides information to help people deal with the effects of climate change. It started in 2021 with funding from the federal government.
Estabrooks told council he believes anyone earning a pay cheque in the “environmental and climate change adaptation and mitigation sector” should not be appointed to the advisory committee because of potential or perceived conflicts of interest:
What if Tantramar had a council-appointed Road Paving Advisory Committee and accepted recommendations from them while some of those council-approved committee members were employees of either Costin Paving or Miller Industries or somebody? Would that be an OK situation or would that be a potential conflict of interest?
I realize it seems a blatantly simple example, but it effectively illustrates just where my concern lies with some of the current CCAC members and some of the new recommended members. Yes, in my example, both companies are private corporations, which is different from non-profit groups, but the fact remains that the individuals still draw pay cheques from the organization they work for, non-profit based or not. Conflict of interest policy does apply to non-profit employees and organizations.
If council appoints people to this committee and any of their recommendations to council are accepted ending up benefiting their partner businesses or the organizations they directly work for, meaning we approve spending taxpayers’ money for their projects, I do not see how that would be not considered a conflict of interest situation.
In a split 6-2 vote, with Councillors Michael Tower and Josh Goguen voting no, council approved sending the recommended appointments back to staff “for additional research and recommendations.”
CCAC chair responds
Richard Elliot, who recommended the three replacement appointees to council at its meeting on May 23rd, said today that the advisory committee follows the same conflict of interest rules that apply to members of Tantramar Town Council.
He said that as committee chair, he begins each meeting by asking for any declarations of conflict, just as Mayor Black does at the start of each council meeting.
The official terms of reference governing the advisory committee state that it should have a maximum of 12 members including a liaison councillor (currently Josh Goguen).
“In addition, up to ten (10) members may be appointed to represent the community at large, and interested community-based organizations such as local conservation and environmental groups, community stakeholders, business community [and] a minimum of one (1) student.”
To read the full text of Councillor Estabrooks’ statement including his motion and who voted for and against it, click here.
To read a report on the clash between Estabrooks and Dietz last fall over an EV charger in downtown Sackville, click here.