West Hants council reconsiders in camera fire services meeting

Carole Morris-Underhill
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The Windsor Fire Department has been operating in Windsor since 1881 and serving West Hants for about 60 years.

West Hants council was looking to hold a private meeting in March to iron out their position on fire services, but after receiving some criticism from a fellow councillor, the idea was put on hold.

Warden Richard Dauphinee suggested it would be appropriate to book the special in camera meeting to hash out their response to the Windsor Fire Department's executive.

Although the municipality received legal advice recommending they not make any former motions or recommendations while an investigation into an alleged conflict of interest claim was underway, CAO Cheryl Chislett said that didn't preclude council from discussing the fire services topic.

“My suggestion is not stall this any longer. We've got to do something here, whether it's from West Hants' perspective or the Windsor Fire Department's perspective,” said Chislett at the committee of the whole meeting Feb. 25. “It's been three years; we're going into year No. 4 with no arrangement in place for fire service for that particular area.”

Negotiations between the Windsor Fire Department's executive and West Hants broke down nearly four years ago. However, the WFD has continued to provide fire protection to the county without having a contract, and since early 2013, they have not been paid for their services due to council changing how they would make payments.

In the fall of 2013, council laid out their seven concerns to the WFD executive. The executive then provided their response at a public meeting Feb. 24. At that meeting, Scott Burgess, Windsor's fire chief, requested council consider allowing staff and legal counsel to meet with the WFD staff to work out an understanding.

Council discussed this request briefly at their regular committee of the whole meeting Feb. 25.

“At the end of the day, it's council's decision on what you're going to do here,” said Chislett. “But, the response, to me, has to be clear, concise and clearly written.”

Coun. Randy Matheson has been critical of the way council has handled the fire services issue, and once again voiced his concerns at the Tuesday night meeting.

“Coun. (Victor) Swinamer has a situation that hasn't been resolved and you're going in camera. That's bizarre,” said Matheson, alluding to Swinamer being investigated by the province's attorney general for an alleged conflict of interest. Swinamer is the father-in-law of the Windsor fire chief.

“I'm not going to be a part of this. This is done wrong. We're in this mess because we did it wrong in the beginning.... We went in camera, we shouldn't have gone in camera,” Matheson said.

The Brooklyn councillor, who received public applause for his comments, told council he feels like the child who pointed out the emperor wasn't wearing any clothes.

“It's quite obvious here that we cannot discuss this with all of these conflicts outstanding,” said Matheson. “You've got to clear the table.”

Dauphinee agreed and suggested they postpone the in camera session until the conflict of interest investigation wraps up.

“I actually think that we're doing it wrong, also. And I'm not looking for a round of applause.”

 

Organizations: Windsor Fire Department, West Hants council

Geographic location: Hants, Brooklyn, Windsor West Hants Nova Scotia Hants County

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