© Carole Morris-Underhill
The Windsor Fire Department has been operating in Windsor since 1881 and serving West Hants for about 60 years.
One West Hants councillor is refusing to participate in any further discussions involving the Windsor Fire Department and the municipality until “some conflicts and protocol issues” are resolved.
Randy Matheson, a longtime councillor representing Brooklyn, requested council receive his letter March 11, which was dated Feb. 24, explaining his absence the night council met with the WFD to try to hash out some of the unresolved issues between the two entities.
The WFD and the municipality have been at odds since their service contract expired about four years ago. The volunteer fire department has continued to provide coverage to West Hants while the WFD executive and West Hants council try to find an arrangement that will work for both parties.
Matheson's letter indicates he feels it's not appropriate for council to carry on with discussions until the attorney general makes a ruling on Coun. Victor Swinamer's alleged conflict of interest.
In early 2013, Swinamer was accused of being in a conflict of interest as he is the father-in-law of Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess. Swinamer started his term as councillor declaring a conflict of interest with regards to fire services. However, once council voted to have staff “begin 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” at the May 14, 2013 regular council meeting, Swinamer stopped recusing himself from voting on motions involving fire services. On July 9, 2013, the majority of council voted to request the attorney general investigate Swinamer's actions.
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“He has been taken to task on this. Until that is resolved, he should remove himself from discussions. Failing that or resolution of the matter, we should not be involved with discussions with the Windsor Fire Department,” Matheson's letter states.
The councillor further alleges Burgess shouldn't be involved in the discussions.
“Scurrying around to get legal opinions as to whether or not the chief is in conflict is time wasted. No law would be broken if the chief stayed at the table. Ours is not a regulated activity like the stock market where shenanigans like this would not be tolerated,” wrote Matheson.
He said as Burgess serves as a Town of Windsor employee and chief of the department, his loyalties would lie with the town and the WFD. As such, Matheson said he didn't feel the chief could negotiate fairly.
“Common sense tells us that since the cost of running the department is shared between the town and the municipality, we should not agree to a town employee determining our share of that cost,” Matheson wrote.
“In a labour dispute, a union would never agree to arbitration if the arbitrator was from management. Having the chief at the table is an egregious affront to fair play and strikes to the heart of the difficulties we experience with the Windsor Fire Department.”
“In a labour dispute, a union would never agree to arbitration if the arbitrator was from management. Having the chief at the table is an egregious affront to fair play and strikes to the heart of the difficulties we experience with the Windsor Fire Department.” Coun. Randy Matheson
When West Hants first began discussing issues they had with the fire department, Matheson pointed out in his letter that he boycotted those meetings as he felt council ignored protocol.
“I stand by that decision and believe that our failure to act in good faith is why we are in this mess,” he wrote, indicating he feels the WFD is now the entity that's not acting in good faith.
Matheson's letter concluded by noting that the CAO should determine if negotiating an agreement with the WFD is even in council's purview, or if it is something done by staff.
No discussion was held at the council meeting March 11 about Matheson's letter.
The Hants Journal contacted Burgess in regards to Matheson's claims. He provided the following response, on behalf of the Windsor Fire Department's executive.
“The Windsor Fire Department has previously consulted with our legal counsel and has been advised that Chief Burgess is not in a conflict of interest for discussions with West Hants. We would be happy to have our legal counsel contact the legal advisors to West Hants if that will help resolve the issue more promptly,” the statement reads.
“We are committed to provide continuing protection and fire service to the community and will do whatever we can to move the discussions with West Hants forward.”