‘Left with no choice’: Hanwell mayor resigns over pay, attendance dispute

Chris Melvin talks with Global News on Sept. 4, 2018. Morganne Campbell/Global News

A dispute between a New Brunswick community council and its mayor over the latter’s pay and attendance has come to a head, with the mayor choosing to resign after serving two years in the position.

Chris Melvin announced in a Facebook post on Saturday that he had resigned from his position as mayor of Hanwell, N.B., a municipality 15 kilometres south of Fredericton.

The mayor’s salary is $15,000 a year, but Melvin said like many people in municipal politics, he needs another job to supplement his income.

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Melvin wrote that his day job in insurance requires him to travel out of town and that he had requested permission from the town to be absent from four of the 12 council meetings.

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Council refused the request and because the mayor’s salary is tied to the office’s attendance, Melvin says he stood to lost $5,000 to $6,000.

“This issue has raised a potential confrontation between Mayor, staff and Council. Such confrontation is unhealthy especially for the community,” wrote Melvin.

“We need to focus on other matters — the upcoming budget season and the opening of the community and municipal building in the spring, just to name a couple.”

“Because of the position I’m now faced, I have opted to resign.”

Council responds

A statement signed by Terri Parker, Hanwell’s clerk, and Dave Morrison, the deputy mayor, says that council has accepted Melvin’s resignation.

The statement indicates the council had decided to enforce Hanwell by-law #02-2014, which states that council members must attend a minimum of 80 per cent of meetings unless they have a valid excuse approved by council.

If a member’s attendance is less than 80 per cent,  the by-law states that the member’s salary would be penalized by having “an amount equal to the percentage of absences.”

Council says that as of Oct. 2018, Melvin had missed 38 per cent (five of 13) council meetings, and that he had informed staff that he expected to miss more.

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“The absences were brought to Council’s attention and we were left with no choice but to enforce our own by-law,” the statement reads.

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More than just attendance

Melvin says that attending council is the “least burdensome activity for a mayor” and that he’s often had to attend countless activities while responding to emails and phone calls at all hours.

“Unfortunately, according to a strict interpretation of the remuneration bylaw, they are irrelevant when it comes to measuring the performance of a Mayor,” wrote Melvin.

The statement from council acknowledged that the position of mayor requires more than just attending council meetings but that the “difficult” choice was ultimately the correct one.

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“All legislative decisions are made at Council meetings, and their significance can not be understated,” the statement reads.

“Council has an obligation to uphold our community’s By-Laws… We can not have double standards for elected officials and the residents of our community. We ask our resident to respect our By-Laws and without question Mayor and Council has an obligation to abide by them as well.”

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By-elections set to for December

With Melvin’s resignation, Morrison will assume the duties of mayor until a by-election is held on Dec. 10.

Council thanked Melvin for his contribution to the community in his role as councillor and mayor.

Melvin acknowledged that the decision did not come easy, but that it was the best for himself and the town.

“It has been a pleasure to serve Hanwell in various capacities since 2012,” he wrote.

“It meant a lot to me and my family.”

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