SACKVILLE, N.B. – Should residents have free reign to privately question contractors on a project being commissioned by the municipality? And if so, will it come with a heftier price tag?
These were questions up for discussion at town council’s recent monthly meeting, sparked by a local resident’s irritation over being interrupted in his attempt to have a hallway conversation with an engineering consultant on the Lorne Street flood control project following a public presentation the week before on the topic.
Merlin Estabrooks said he and another Sackville resident, Percy Best, had followed Pierre Plourde of Crandall Engineering out of town council chambers after his briefing on Sept. 4 to clarify some of the things Plourde had said and to provide the consultant with additional information they thought he should have.
Estabrooks alleges that Jamie Burke, senior manager of corporate projects for the town, came out after them and “very rudely interrupted our conversation.” He said Burke had no business intruding on what he says was simply a friendly chat, and feels an apology is in order.
“Why didn’t he want us to talk to this man?”
Estabrooks said Burke told them they couldn’t speak with the consultant unless they were willing to pay for his time.
Mayor John Higham defended Burke’s decision, saying he was simply “doing what he understood was his job.”
“The contractor was not supposed to be providing information about the specific contract except to council (at that meeting),” said Higham.
The public briefing was presented during council’s monthly discussion group meeting, and although these meetings are open to the public, they have no question period.
Higham said the town does, however, hold public sessions on projects like Lorne Street so residents have an opportunity to ask questions at that time.
“We create in our process, and we create in the contract, times in which the public have public sessions in which those questions can be asked.”
Higham said contractors like Plourde could bill for their time to answer individual questions from residents – and that could start getting expensive.
“We have 5,500 people in this town,” he told Estabrooks. “If they all said ‘I have the right to talk to that contractor,’ and they have the right to bill you, well, we’d have to double or triple the contract costs.”
The mayor said the councillors are elected by the people to represent them and it is their responsibility to ask questions of contractors and make public decisions on contracts.