Phinney cited for violating Sackville’s new Code of Conduct

Councillor Bruce Phinney participated in Wednesday’s council meeting from his car in the Town Hall parking lot

Sackville Town Council has found that Councillor Bruce Phinney violated its new Code of Conduct by disclosing confidential information during a council meeting on April 6th.

At an online meeting Wednesday night, councillors approved a motion authorizing Mayor 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 will abide by its provisions.

The motion indicates that Phinney had refused to sign such a statement even though members of council were required to do so within seven days of passing the Code on March 9th.

At the time, Phinney was the only councillor to vote against it.

“The Code of Conduct that we’re putting in place, to me and this is my personal opinion, is to kind of keep everybody quiet,” Phinney said at the time.

To read the two motions council passed, click here.

What did Phinney do?

Wednesday night’s council meeting lasted for more than an hour and a half, but most of it was held behind closed doors.

The public motions do not say what Phinney did to breach the Code of Conduct and the councillor himself won’t reveal that either, but it is known that it relates to council’s debate over the hiring of Jamie Burke as the town’s new CAO, the only item on the April 6 agenda.

That meeting was held by telephone with a 13-minute recording released more than a week later accompanied by a note that 37-seconds had been deleted “because of confidentiality concerns.” To read coverage of that meeting, click here.

Phinney is heard on that recording opposing the appointment of Burke.

“The reason I’m voting against it is I feel that the other candidates that we had were much more qualified,” Phinney said.

Mayor Higham thanks councillors for their time during Wednesday’s online meeting

Council interviewed a short list of six candidates including Burke.

Some of the candidates were recruited for the CAO position by the Halifax-based firm KBRS. On its website, the company stresses the need for confidentiality about candidates during the hiring process.

It appears likely that Phinney disclosed information about one or more of the short-listed candidates during the 37 seconds of council’s telephone meeting not released to the public.

Such disclosure, if it were to be made public, would not only breach the new Code of Conduct, but could put the town in jeopardy of violating provincial privacy laws that protect confidential personal information held by public bodies including municipalities.

As Wednesday’s online meeting ended, Mayor Higham noted wearily it had been a long one adding, “Thank you all for the extensive time tonight.”

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 7 Comments

Sackville Town Council approves COVID-19 financial relief during online meeting

Sackville council members appeared in groups of four during online meeting. Councillors Bill Evans and Joyce O’Neil (top left & right) Mayor John Higham and Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken (bottom left & right)

Sackville Town Council has approved a number of measures, including a $20 rebate on water and sewer bills, to help residents cope with the financial stress of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“It’s just a way of giving people a break during this very tumultuous time,” Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken told his council colleagues during their first-ever online council meeting Monday night.

Aiken said the $20 rebate applies to water and sewer bills from January 1st to March 31st. Those bills were delayed because of the pandemic, but are due to be mailed out next week.

All of the town’s 2,000 water and sewer accounts will benefit from the $20 rebate.

“That would put…about $40,000 back into the taxpayers’ pockets during these tough times,” Treasurer Michael Beal told council.

He added that the town will cover the cost by subtracting $40,000 from its $160,000 contribution this year to a reserve fund that is meant to pay for sewage lagoon upgrades due by 2040.

Town Council also approved extending the time to pay current water bills from 30 to 60 days, with no interest penalty. The new 60-day payment schedule will also apply to the 10% seniors’ discount. In addition, council voted to waive interest payments on overdue accounts during April and May and to suspend cutting off water for residents who have failed to pay their bills until at least June 30th.

Finally, dog owners will not be required to purchase 2020 tags until further notice, a potential saving of $20 for a spayed and neutered pet and $40 for an un-spayed, un-neutered one that is over a year old.

New CAO

CAO Jamie Burke during online meeting

Monday’s online council meeting was the first for Jamie Burke in his new role as the town’s Chief Administrative Officer.

In his report to council, Burke said the town has been adjusting to the current  state of emergency as both staff and residents follow the advice of public health authorities.

“It has not been business as usual for the town,” Burke said. “Despite the unprecedented times, we continue to deliver essential services to the community.”

Councillor Bill Evans welcomed Burke.

“I feel we are in really good hands with Jamie and I look forward to working with him in his new capacity,” he said.

Evans also paid tribute to outgoing CAO Phil Handrahan.

“He gave us lots of notice and he extended his departure date so that he could help us,” Evans said. “I don’t know if he knew what he got into, but he spent a lot of time when he could have been out golfing, helping us deal with COVID.”

Phinney’s COVID story

Meantime, Councillor Bruce Phinney revealed he had been tested for COVID-19 and urged others to get tested too.

“For those people who think they may have symptoms, don’t feel like you need to sit back and wait to have an invitation,” Phinney said.

He told his council colleagues that he called 811 after work on a Friday afternoon to report feeling ill.

He said that health practitioners responded promptly and scheduled an appointment for him to be tested the next morning in Moncton.

“Then I got a call Sunday morning at about 8:30 giving my results saying that I was negative,” Phinney said.

“That’s how fast and efficient these people are and they’re recommending that if you’re not sure or if you’re feeling bad, go and have the testing done.”

Bruce Phinney addressing council from his car

Phinney said later during a telephone interview that he worried he was potentially contagious and could spread the virus.

“It would have devastated me, giving it to someone else,” he added. “The negative test gave me peace of mind.”

Phinney appeared to be the only councillor who was not at home or in an office as he participated in the meeting.

He explained that he has no Internet service at home, so he parked his car in the town hall parking lot, ran an extension cord to an outside electrical outlet, and spoke to council on his laptop over the town’s WiFi signal.

“Other municipalities give councillors a tablet or cell phone, but not here in Sackville,” he said, pointing out he hasn’t been allowed to enter the town hall building since March 24.

“It was getting really cold in my car during the meeting,” he said, adding that so far, no one has shown any inclination to help him participate in online meetings more comfortably.

Posted in COVID-19, Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 4 Comments

Mount Allison chaplain moving to new post in Ottawa

The Rev. John Perkin

Mount Allison Chaplain John Perkin says he’ll miss his pastoral work and his teaching at the university, but after 27 years, he feels it’s time to move on.

“I was coming to the end of my Mt. A. time,” Perkin said today during a telephone interview.

“I turn 60 this month, so that’s kind of a milestone that one looks at as saying ‘OK, how much longer will I go?'”

Perkin says he began thinking about his future last fall when he was encouraged to apply for the position of pastor at First Baptist Church in Ottawa.

“Once I’d made the decision to apply and started the interview process, I kind of came to a decision in my own mind that whether or not I went to Ottawa, it seemed like a good time to wrap up 27 years at Mount Allison.”

Perkin was the successful candidate for the Ottawa job and plans to begin his ministry there this summer.

“Things are a little uncertain because of the pandemic in terms of when I will actually go to Ottawa,” he says. “Certainly if things are still in a lockdown state, I may begin a virtual or online ministry from here until it’s conducive to move there.”

Historic church

Wikipedia photo of Ottawa’s First Baptist Church

First Baptist Church is a large, stone building in the heart of downtown Ottawa not far from the Parliament Buildings and the National War Memorial.

“It’s a significant church that’s had quite a history since shortly after Confederation,” Perkin says. “It’s been 142 years in the current building, although the church goes back 162 years as a congregation.”

He adds that in normal times, 100 to 150 people attend Sunday services, but the building can hold about three times that many.

The church derives its name, at least in part, from its history as the founding Baptist church in Ottawa, the first of several that came after it.

Mt. A connections

Perkin says he feels grateful for the connections he had with so many people during his years at Mount Allison as he helped students come to terms with issues related to identity, meaning and purpose.

“Arriving as chaplain in the early ’90s, I think I had the sense that I was going to be working very closely with that committed group of students involved in the chapel community and practising Christians, but it quickly became apparent that the role was much broader,” he says.

Mount Allison Chapel

“I worked closely with Jewish students and Muslim students and Hindu students, and certainly worked with students of no faith commitment.”

He adds that the beauty and intimacy of the Mount Allison Chapel contributed to his pastoral work.

“It’ such a magnificent building,” Perkin says.

“It evokes such a sense of size and majesty and wonder, and I think that appeals to people whether or not they’re Christian or whether they’re in for worship. Having the chapel open daily gave people the opportunity to come in and sit and reflect in that space.”

Teaching

Perkin says he will also miss teaching a wide range of religious studies courses, including one called The Apocalyptic Consciousness.

“That’s certainly been one of the most popular courses on campus — at times I had over 150 students in it,” he adds.

“With that course what I do is I look very much at contemporary culture and its fascination with things apocalyptic and its misunderstanding of that term,” he says, adding that students today don’t worry about the world ending in a nuclear apocalypse the way earlier generations did.

John Perkin in winter

“The current generation of students, that’s not really a very real threat to them in comparison to the far more real threat of environmental or ecological collapse and climate change.”

Finally, Perkin notes that since he’s moving to a big city, he will no longer be seeing the many pheasants of Middle Sackville.

“I jokingly refer to the home as Pheasant Hollow in the old English tradition of naming a house rather than giving it a street address,” he says.

“About the last 10 years I’ve been feeding the pheasants during the winters and we see anywhere between 60 and 80 on a single day in the morning when I put the corn out. That number disappears in the spring, but they gather again in the winter,” he adds.

“I’ll miss seeing the pheasants.”

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Green MLA Megan Mitton says COVID-19 shows need for guaranteed income and crackdown on ‘corporate tax dodgers’

Megan Mitton speaks during Green Party Facebook panel

New Brunswick Green Party MLA Megan Mitton says that although the COVID-19 pandemic has created new problems, it has also exposed some that already exist.

“Now more than ever there is a need to de-couple labour from income and ensure that everyone’s basic needs are met through a Guaranteed Liveable Income,” Mitton, who represents the provincial riding of Memramcook-Tantramar, said Tuesday night during an hour-long Green Party panel discussion on Facebook.

She pointed to the $2,000 per month that people, who have been forced to stop working because of COVID-19, are eligible to receive under the federal Canada Emergency Response Benefit (CERB).

Mitton echoed a point that provincial Green Party leader David Coon made earlier about the $537 per month that single welfare recipients receive in New Brunswick.

“CERB has been essentially establishing new benchmarks for what minimum incomes could be,” she said. “So, $2,000 a month is needed, I guess, to support someone — that’s what the government is essentially saying as a minimum stopgap — and yet people have been expected to live on much, much less.”

Mitton added that aside from the $537 monthly income that single welfare recipients get, other New Brunswick workers have also been earning much less than the $2,000 federal benchmark.

On April 1, the provincial minimum wage increased to $11.70 per hour, a rate that gives someone working a 40-hour week a weekly income of $468 or $1,872 every four weeks.

‘Corporate tax dodgers’

MLA Megan Mitton

“While these gaps and cracks in our society are being exposed,” Mitton said, “we have corporations and the extremely wealthy who are actually in some cases profiting from the pandemic, and we have corporations who are registered in tax havens and they’re going to be able to access bailout money here in Canada.”

She added that the federal government should follow other countries in not allowing such corporations to receive emergency funds.

“These companies have actively been avoiding paying taxes in our country and contributing to the public good and our public services,” Mitton said. “We need to, at this moment, ensure that progressive ideas and that investments in public services and liveable income and wages are the policies that are solidified and we need to hold corporations accountable.”

Mitton said that after the pandemic, the province needs to resist neo-liberal policies that emphasize deregulation and privatization as outlined in Naomi Klein’s book The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism.

“We need to ensure the opposite of that happens,” Mitton added. “We need to make sure we are taking care of people and that we stop letting tax dodgers off the hook.”

Mitton did not mention the Irving family by name, but according to Financial Post columnist Diane Francis, K.C. Irving pioneered corporate tax avoidance in 1972 when he moved to Bermuda.

“Since then a large chunk of an entire Canadian province has been owned by a series of trusts worth billions of dollars that don’t pay Canadian taxes,” Francis wrote in 2016.

This is the first in a two-part series about the Green Party panel discussion on Facebook.

Posted in COVID-19, New Brunswick government, New Brunswick politics | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Burke appointed Sackville CAO amid concerns about COVID-19

Concerns about the threats posed by the COVID-19 pandemic dominated a telephone meeting that Sackville Town Council held more than a week ago on Monday, April 6.

The town released a 13-minute recording of the meeting today during which town council voted by a 7-1 margin to appoint Jamie Burke as Sackville’s new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

Several parts of the recording are difficult to understand because of feedback, clicks, pops and sound distortion. A note on the town’s website also explains that 37 seconds have been removed “because of confidentiality concerns.”

“We can’t predict what the future holds for our community,” Councillor Shawn Mesheau is heard telling his council colleagues after noting that he had e-mailed them suggesting a delay in the CAO hiring process because of the COVID-19 crisis.

“We’re facing the unknown circumstances of what is to come and I believe it’s important to seek out what we do know in order to tackle the challenges ahead,” Mesheau said, adding that as CAO, Jamie Burke will require leadership from council and co-operation from the community during the pandemic.

Councillor Bill Evans, who moved the motion to appoint the new CAO, said Burke is the right person to lead the town in tough times.

“He’s a proven entity, he’s a real professional, he’s very competent,” Evans said — comments that were echoed by Councillor Michael Tower who seconded the motion.

“I really feel Jamie deserves this job. I think he’s got some learning to do,” Tower said. “I feel he is the right man now to lead us on during these tough times and if we’re willing as a council to step up and support him, I think we’re making the right choice.”

Councillor Joyce O’Neil also expressed strong support for Burke as CAO.

“He knows our town well, he knows our staff and I’m sure that with the support of the mayor and council and staff that he will be able to…(inaudible),” O’Neil said.

Councillor Allison Butcher said the town was fortunate that there were so many qualified competitors for the job.

“There was a lot of good candidates, but right from the beginning, I felt that Jamie Burke was the best candidate. In these times with COVID, there is even more reason to go with our first choice,” Butcher added. “He knows our community, he knows where we are at and what is happening here already and, as I said, he will hit the ground running.”

“Even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic, I would still vote in favour of Jamie as my first choice because I think he’s the best person for… (inaudible),” said Councillor Andrew Black.

Deputy Mayor Ron Aiken said he agreed with all of the points made in support of appointing Burke.

Councillor Bruce Phinney, the only member to vote against the appointment, said it’s the wrong time to appoint a new CAO.

“The reason I’m voting against it is I feel that the other candidates that we had were much more qualified. Mr. Burke has a lot more to learn yet and he needs much more mentoring before he’s able to fill such a position,”  Phinney said.

He added that Burke was responsible for a mistake that cost taxpayers more than half a million dollars — a reference to the discovery of contaminated soil on land that the town acquired from CN Rail for the Lorne Street flood control project.

Phinney also said he had been on previous CAO hiring committees that had not been very successful. (For background, see May 2017 coverage of Phinney’s opposition to the new CAO bylaw.)

After the vote to appoint Burke, Mayor John Higham asked members of council to send him suggestions for how future meetings could be conducted during the pandemic.

“It was difficult from this end to hear some of you,” Higham said. “So please give some thought as to how we might learn from this.”

For previous coverage, click here.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged | 3 Comments

In 7-1 vote, Sackville Town Council appoints Jamie Burke as CAO

Jamie Burke, Sackville’s new CAO

Sackville Town Council has chosen one of the town’s senior managers as its new Chief Administrative Officer (CAO).

During a telephone meeting Monday night, six councillors and the deputy mayor voted to appoint Jamie Burke to the top administrative post while Councillor Bruce Phinney voted against it.

In 2019, Phinney called for Burke’s removal as senior manager of corporate projects, a post Burke has held for the last six years.

A news release announcing Burke’s appointment says the headhunting firm KBRS came up with a short list of seven candidates.

It adds that council ended up interviewing six of them and then brought the top two back for a second round.

To read the release, click here.

Burke replaces Phil Handrahan who retired in February.

His appointment took effect today at a salary that falls somewhere between $100,273 and $133,697.

Last year, Phinney called for Burke and other senior managers to be fired after the discovery of about 14-thousand tonnes of contaminated soil on land the town had acquired from CN Rail for its Lorne Street flood control project. The cleanup cost taxpayers $525,000.

Burke also generated controversy in 2018 when he told two citizens not to talk to a consultant on the flood control project unless they were willing to pay for the consultant’s time.

Posted in Town of Sackville | Tagged , | 7 Comments

MLA Mitton announces Tantramar task force to help people weather COVID-19 pandemic

MLA Megan Mitton

Memramcook-Tantramar MLA Megan Mitton has announced the formation of a high-powered task force, the first of its kind in the province, to co-ordinate a response to the COVID-19 pandemic in southeastern New Brunswick.

Mitton says the Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force (TCTF) will include the mayors of Sackville, Dorchester and Port Elgin as well as the Chief of the Fort Folly First Nation.

The Task Force will focus on ensuring that people’s needs continue to be met during the COVID-19 crisis including access to an adequate supply of food as well as to mental and physical health services.

“We’re just trying to make sure we have a co-ordinated community response and that we’re working together to maximize our resources,” Mitton said during a telephone interview.

She added that the task force will focus on co-ordinating the work of volunteers.

“One of the challenges that food banks are facing is that many of the volunteers that they have are seniors,” she said. “There is a higher risk to their health if they continue in their volunteer duties and so, how do we mobilize volunteers to respond to the increased demand on the food banks?”

Mitton says the task force will also identify gaps in services.

“One of the roles that I can play is taking those issues to the leader of the Green Party who sits on the COVID-19 cabinet committee, so that the issues that are arising here that can’t be dealt with at the local level, those gaps can be identified and I can take them to the provincial level,” she adds.

The task force will be co-chaired by Carolle de Ste-Croix, director of alumni engagement at Mount Allison University and David McKellar, president of the Sackville Rotary Club.

A Green Party news release issued on Sunday says the task force will establish action groups to focus on such areas as communications and technology, food security, donations, volunteers and financial and legal matters.

“The task force is not meant to replace the valuable work of our community groups and volunteers, but rather to offer support and ensure the maximization of available resources,” the release adds.

Mitton says she got the idea for the new Tantramar COVID-19 Task Force from an earlier committee she helped establish to fight against provincial cuts to the Sackville Memorial Hospital.

“This type of group worked well together to have different stakeholders from different parts of the riding come together with a common goal of taking care of the community and responding to needs, so that’s what sparked the idea,” she says.

Mitton adds that while the fight to preserve the hospital’s overnight emergency services and acute care beds has been temporarily overshadowed, the COVID crisis itself vividly illustrates the need for smaller, local hospitals.

“One of the interesting things that I saw in an article about Italy was the importance of the rural hospitals and how the regional hospitals ended up being places where the disease spread more,” she says.

“I think this will be something that will be fresh in our minds when we get back into making decisions around health care.”

For more information about the task force, visit the TantramarCovid19 Facebook page. The co-chairs can be reached via e-mail at: cochairs.tctf@gmail.com.

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