When it comes to the Windsor Fire Department's perceived conflict of interest involving West Hants Warden Richard Dauphinee, the municipal leader is in the clear.
The warden told fellow councillors the news at their regular monthly meeting on April 10.
“I did have a chance to deal with a lawyer. I will make it very clear on my behalf I have no conflict of interest. That was totally ridiculous,” he said.
At the March 6 West Hants committee of the whole meeting, Windsor Fire Chief Scott Burgess and the department's lawyer, John T. Shanks, requested three members of West Hants' nine-member council step aside so contract negotiations could proceed without any perceived conflicts of interest.
The Windsor Fire Department has been operating without a contract with West Hants since early 2010.
The letter they provided to council March 6 asked Councillor Shirley Pineo, Deputy Warden Gary Cochrane and Warden Dauphinee remove themselves from contract negotiations, noting that Pineo and Cochrane each have a son who is a local firefighter.
The reason why they wanted Dauphinee to step aside, however, was quite different. They alleged he was involved in secret meetings with Windsor firefighters.
The warden has maintained from the get-go there was only one meeting, it was not secret, and it was with firefighters who are residents of his district who asked to meet with him.
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After obtaining legal advice, Dauphinee said he is in a position to sue.
“Can I sue? Yes I can, for defamation of character, but I won't be doing that.”
Dauphinee said he'd rather try to work things out diplomatically.
“I don't want to muddy the waters. I'd like to see things cleared up and I'll take the high road at this time unless the fire chief wants to push it further, then I'm up for the challenge,” said Dauphinee at the April 10 council meeting, adding, “But, at this point in time, I just want to make it clear to everybody, there's no conflict of interest.”
The legalities of whether Pineo and Cochrane could be in a conflict of interest due to their family ties was also examined by legal counsel. Pineo's son is involved with the Brooklyn Fire Department.
At the meeting, Pineo said she has also been cleared of a conflict of interest.
Cochrane told the Journal in an email that he is planning to declare a conflict of interest as his son volunteers with the Windsor Fire Department.
“I have been advised that it would be in my best interest to declare a conflict of interest whenever discussing contract negotiations with the Windsor Fire Department as my son is a volunteer with the department,” wrote Cochrane. “And that is what I am planning to do.”
“Can I sue? Yes I can, for defamation of character, but I won't be doing that.” - Warden Richard Dauphinee
Windsor’s fire chief was away from the office at an international fire department training conference and was unavailable for an interview. However, in-between classes, he sent an email with a brief statement to the Journal.
“The one point I would like make clear is our perception of this issue is from our fire departments’ and firefighter’s perspective along with some of our citizens. We felt it proper and professional to just ask for the real or perceived conflict to be looked at before entering into any type of reasonable and proper negotiations. It would be very unprofessional and irresponsible to our department and firefighters as well as the public if our executive had not asked this when we did,” Burgess wrote.
“The WFD Executive is our management body and need to conduct business in a professional, ethical and moral manner above reproach when representing our firefighters, our department and for the best interest of the citizens we serve.”