West Hants council, WFD executive to meet later this month
© Carole Morris-Underhill
The Windsor Fire Department's executive met with West Hants council Nov. 27 to gain a better understanding of what the municipality's concerns with fire services are.
After having time to review West Hants council's concerns, the Windsor Fire Department's executive is ready to return for a special committee of the whole meeting later this month.
However, West Hants council doesn't want the fire chief to be their spokesperson.
During West Hants' committee of the whole meeting Jan. 28, council voted in favour of inviting the WFD executive back to hear their responses to questions and issues council posed to them in November.
The meeting is tentatively set for Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. Among the topics that are up for discussion are: ownership of assets, a salaried fire chief, and a more equitable contractual arrangement.
Just as council was agreeing to the date, Coun. Randy Matheson noted he had no intention of attending the meeting. He said there are still outstanding conflict of interest claims that need to be dealt with, alleging both Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess and West Hants Coun. Victor Swinamer are in a conflict.
Matheson has long maintained he feels Burgess is in a conflict of interest as Burgess is a Town of Windsor employee. As such, Matheson says Burgess should not be involved with any decisions for the provision of municipal fire services.
“Common sense says that when you have a shared service, you can't have the other guys, the other partner in the share, determining your share. It can't be done – not fairly,” Matheson said during the meeting.
As for Swinamer's alleged conflict of interest, on July 9, 2013, council voted in favour of having the province's attorney general investigate the Falmouth councillor, who is Burgess' father-in-law, to see if he was in a conflict of interest. Prior to council announcing they were beginning “the process of establishing an all-inclusive fire protection service for the areas in West Hants currently receiving fire protection service from the Windsor Fire Department” on May 14, 2013, Swinamer would declare a conflict of interest and abstain from voting. Shortly after that decision was made, Swinamer began voting on motions and matters pertaining to the WFD. Council has not yet received the results of the investigation.
The Windsor Fire Department has been without a signed contract with the Municipality of West Hants for nearly four years. However, they continue to provide service.
Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane, chair of the committee of the whole meeting, told Matheson the executive was only coming to council to provide a response to the questions they raised Nov. 27, 2013.
“That's how I got sucked in the other time. I should've walked out then,” said Matheson of the November meeting between the executive and council. “It doesn't matter. It's a negotiation; it's a discussion, and that shouldn't be.”
Warden Richard Dauphinee said the purpose of the upcoming meeting is not to negotiate a contract, but rather to hear the executive's answers.
“This is bothering me. I really feel that we're adding a little more fuel to the fire that we're trying to snuff out." Coun. Jennifer Daniels
Matheson maintained it was improper for council to carry on with the meeting.
“I know people are gun shy right now,” said Matheson. “I know this is a hot button issue and I know the public wants us to proceed but you can't proceed the wrong way. You have to proceed the right way, and that's where I stand.”
Coun. Shirley Pineo said she also felt it was negotiating, though it did not involve finances.
CAO Cheryl Chislett said she spoke with the municipal service adviser in January and was told it wasn't up to council to negotiate a deal with the fire department.
“The fire contract is up to staff to bring it back for you to approve or to send back for changes or whatever. But not to sit at the table and negotiate,” she said.
The warden told council that they committed to meeting with the executive and they should keep their word.
Coun. Jennifer Daniels agreed.
“We need to keep our word,” said Daniels. “We certainly need to keep our word on behalf of the public as well and at least have the second meeting with the fire department for transparency purposes – to prove that yes, we're making an honest effort to work with our local fire department. And then after that, definitely it's on to our CAO to look after.”
Matheson said while he respects both Swinamer and Burgess, he feels it would be in everyone's best interest to steer clear of any decisions that could be viewed as improper.
“The public perception is: is it done right? The answer for me, no, not now. This has been a mess right from the beginning,” he said.
The warden then suggested that since the chief is just one person on the WFD executive, the CAO could relay their concerns and ask that another executive member be appointed the spokesperson.
“We should suggest that the chief is in a conflict of interest and that we'd like the rest of the executive to come in and do the presentation,” Dauphinee said, making a motion to request Chislett contact the executive.
Before the vote was held, Daniels cautioned council about making such a motion.
“This is bothering me. I really feel that we're adding a little more fuel to the fire that we're trying to snuff out,” said Daniels.
She noted that as the Hants Journal was present, council's conversation was already made public via social media.
“I would say just let it lay. Let's be cordial,” she said.
The motion to contact the executive requesting Burgess not be the spokesperson passed, with Daniels, Swinamer and Mike Campbell voting against. Not present for the vote was Coun. Reed Allen.