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Hanwell councillor suspended for 3 months over accusations of spreading misinformation | CBC News

People sit at a table in a room.
Pat Septon was suspended from his role as Hanwell councillor for 90 days following accusations by other council members that he spread misinformation about them and municipal staff. (Aidan Cox/CBC)

Councillors of a small New Brunswick municipality have voted to suspend one of their own following accusations he spread misinformation and contributed to a toxic work environment.

But Hanwell Coun. Pat Septon says his fellow councillors are using the municipality’s code of conduct to silence him from publicly discussing how the community bordering Fredericton is run.

“They are weaponizing the code of conduct to try to control people’s speech,” said Septon.

At their regular meeting Wednesday evening, Hanwell councillors voted 4-2 in favour of suspending Septon for 90 days.

Coun. Darren MacKenzie brought the motion forward, and spoke at length during the meeting about how misinformation spread by Septon has caused councillors and municipal staff undue stress.

“A reasonable person would stop when local people are telling them they’re doing something wrong, and reevaluate what they’re doing, but not in this case. And this is the thing that infuriates me the most,” MacKenzie said.

“It’s one thing to spread misinformation about your council, but when things that you are saying have been explained to be incorrect many times, it’s no longer just misinformation, it’s outright lying, and this is something that can’t be tolerated any longer.”

People sit at a table.
Hanwell Coun. Darren MacKenzie brought forward the motion to suspend Coun. Pat Septon. (Aidan Cox/CBC)

Septon was asked to be excused from the council chamber for the vote, and left the municipal office when the resolution was passed.

For the next 90 days, Septon will be barred from sitting at the council table, prohibited from participating as a councillor at events, and required to turn over his key to the municipal office.

MacKenzie said council’s ability to suspend Septon comes from Bill 45, the Local Governance Act, which received royal assent June 16.

“Before that point it was kind of iffy,” MacKenzie said during the meeting.

“We do have a legal opinion from our lawyer that it is OK, but again, I’m not a constitutional lawyer. I can only go by the advice I was given by people who know what they are talking about and I was told that it is fine.”

It’s unclear on the surface of the act whether that is the case. The new law says the local governance commission — which is yet to be formed — is the authority in charge of investigating alleged code of conduct breaches, and issuing suspensions where appropriate.

Problems go back to 2022: mayor

Conflict on council has been brewing since last fall, but came to a head in December, said Hanwell Mayor Dave Morrison.

He said some councillors and municipal staff made informal complaints that Septon breached the councillors’ code of conduct.

“Accusing council [and] staff of falsifying documents and accusing staff of lying,” said Morrison, describing what Septon allegedly did.

“A lot of accusations going on, and just stating things that were just not true.”

A man sits at a table.
Hanwell Mayor Dave Morrison said Septon’s actions have pushed some councillors and municipal staff to consider resigning. (Aidan Cox/CBC)

He said 26 allegations were made against Septon, and an investigation by the municipal clerk deemed 19 to be founded.

That led to Septon being sanctioned, which included a reprimand, his remuneration being suspended for six months, and a requirement he apologize to the clerk and assistant clerk.

Morrison said despite those sanctions, Septon continued breaching the code of conduct, prompting the community to solicit an independent investigator, who also found Septon breached the code of conduct.

“And of course, Coun. Septon refuses to admit any wrongdoing,” Morrison said.

“I’ve had staff say they were going to resign, and I’ve had councillors say they were going to resign because they basically said they didn’t sign up for this.”

Septon defends actions

Speaking after the meeting, Septon said the outcome wasn’t a surprise to him.

He said there’s a sentiment on council that members shouldn’t discuss certain issues publicly.

“And that’s not the way council should run. It’s not the way I want to run. It’s not the way I want to represent my community,” he said.

Asked if he acknowledged whether some of what he said has been harmful to staff or councillors, Septon said some municipal staff have gone on stress leave.

“Make no mistake, it’s stressful for all of us,” he said.


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