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2 Saint John councillors reinstated after nearly 5-month suspension

Saint John councillors Joanna Killen and Brent Harris have been reinstated to all council duties after being reprimanded in October. (CBC - image credit)
Saint John councillors Joanna Killen and Brent Harris have been reinstated to all council duties after being reprimanded in October. (CBC - image credit)

Saint John city councillors Joanna Killen and Brent Harris were reinstated to their council committee roles at Monday night's meeting after a code of conduct complaint was reviewed by a law firm.

The two were accused of supporting a strike by city workers last fall and were suspended from their committee work.

Both were absent Monday night when council voted at the end of their meeting to reinstate them.

A city news release said a code of conduct investigation had concluded there were breaches of the code, but there was "no malice or ill-will involved."

"Councilor Harris and Councilor Killen have apologized for any error on their part and Council accepts that apology," the statement went on to say.

Mayor Donna Reardon declined an interview with CBC News after council ended on Monday, expressing an interest in "moving forward."

Harris was removed from the growth and transit committees, while Killen was removed from the growth committee and the community arts board. The sanctions by council did not affect Harris and Killen's ability to take part in regular council meetings.

Harris 'happy' issue is resolved

Harris said he's looking forward to getting back to work and is happy with how the situation was resolved.

"I'm a first-time elected official, and 8,400 people chose to put trust in me, and I told them I was going to do a certain job," he said.

"I've got two and a half years left, so it really put me in a place of confusion on how to proceed when the first half of my journey was unfolding in a certain way."

Saint John city councillor Brent Harris says that he sees traffic calming as an opportunity to green “our built environment”.
Saint John city councillor Brent Harris says that he sees traffic calming as an opportunity to green “our built environment”.

Harris said he's looking forward to returning to work on committees after his reinstatement. (Jacques Poitras/CBC)

Councillors don't have to be on committees to do a good job, "but when you spent two and a half years doing it, you miss it when it's gone," said Harris, who is also chair of the strategic plan steering committee and represents the city at the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.

He said he's not concerned that what happened during the strike will hurt his relationship with council.

"I think we've demonstrated that we can have a disagreement and resolve it, and now it's going to be a matter of walking the walk forward together," Harris said.

Killen declined to be interviewed when reached Tuesday.

Councillors had sued city after suspension

Both councillors told CBC News at the time that they were blindsided by the suspension and expressed their support for members of CUPE Local 486 who were on strike.

Harris said at the time that he was just trying to better understand the union's position so that he could bring back information to council.

The two launched a lawsuit against the city in November, calling their suspension "humiliating."

Killen and Harris said in the lawsuit claim that they weren't given the ability to defend their actions before council.

The city's statement on the reinstatements said that "interim measures will not be taken until the Councilor being the subject of a complaint, has had an opportunity to be heard by Council."

Harris declined to answer any questions about the settlement.

A court clerk said the lawsuit was dropped on Tuesday, and any settlement would have been reached out of court.

The only councillor to vote against the reinstatement was Paula Radwan.

"I am voting against this tonight because I didn't want to take this step. I do personally believe that councillors Killen and Harris had their best intentions," Radwan said before being cut off by Reardon.

"I do hope that we review the code of conduct," Radwan then said.

Mayor said councillors 'crossed a fine line'

In October, Reardon told CBC News that the two councillors had "crossed a fine line" by supporting striking workers. She said that the council had already debated their offer to the union, and it was unfair for the councillors to continue speaking with union members afterward.

The workers, including those employed in emergency dispatch, recreation, customer service, administrative support and bylaw enforcement, were on strike from Sept. 12 to Oct. 11.

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon
Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon

Saint John Mayor Donna Reardon said the two councillors had 'crossed a fine line' by supporting striking workers during negotiations. (Hadeel Ibrahim/CBC)

Reardon pointed to Killen and Harris's posts on social media showing they met with striking workers and held up picket signs.

"All those things demonstrate that they've taken a side on this different than what council as a team has agreed to do," Reardon said.

She also mentioned that the councillors had voiced their opinions on social media.

The review was conducted by a law firm. Councillors cannot be fully suspended, but they can be removed from committee positions or docked pay.