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New Brunswick councillor sanctioned over installation of giant sandpiper statue


Ripples from the installation of a giant statue of a sandpiper in a New Brunswick village keep coming, this time landing a councillor in hot water.

The Municipality of Tantramar ended its meeting Tuesday with the reading of a long list of code of conduct violations committed by Coun. Debbie Wiggins-Colwell, who was instrumental in getting the big bird installed.

The violations include failure to respect the decision-making process and follow policies, procedures and bylaws; inability to have respectful interactions with councillors, staff and the public; and improper use of influence and of municipal assets and services.

The motion was moved by Coun. Allison Butcher and seconded by deputy mayor Greg Martin.

The declaration said Wiggins-Colwell has agreed to attend training to better understand her roles and responsibilities as an elected official, including effective communication and teamwork.

Kara Becker, former deputy mayor of the village where the statue stands -- now part of Tantramar -- called the sanctions against Wiggins-Colwell a "witch hunt."

"She's basically raked through the coals," she said. "All because of the bird? All because she put the village (of Dorchester) at the front and centre?"

The supersized sandpiper known as Shep was commissioned by Dorchester's village council about three years ago after the original wooden one began to rot. Since then, Dorchester was merged with neighbouring towns into the Municipality of Tantramar.

The statue of Shep, named in honour of nearby Shepody Bay, returned to its roost in April. The 2.4-metre high bird looks out to the mudflats of the Bay of Fundy, where semipalmated sandpipers spend about three weeks in the summer, resting and fattening up before they fly to South America for the winter.

Shep became tangled in red tape when Dorchester merged with Sackville and Pointe de Bute to form Tantramar on Jan. 1. The statue, although almost completed, was no longer a priority for the new council.

After Shep's uncertain fate became known through media reports, Becker said an organization came forward to pay New Brunswick artist Robin Hanson his nearly $10,000 fee for the statue. Hanson said on Friday the money came from a private source, not municipal coffers.

He called Wiggins-Colwell an "absolute leader" in getting the sculpture done.

"I don't understand what the controversy would be, except that she's just an exceptional person looking out for her community. The community of Dorchester is 100 per cent behind her," he said.

When Shep was returned, Tantramar Mayor Andrew Black said the steps taken to acquire the statue ignored the town's purchasing procedures and set a precedent for a lack of respect for the decision-making process. He said it also flew in the face of provincial laws and a municipal bylaw.

After receiving two code of conduct complaints against Wiggins-Colwell in March, council decided to hire an outside consultant to conduct an investigation, Black said in a statement Friday. He said the resulting report is confidential. Asked how much the sandpiper investigation cost, he said the municipality is still waiting for the invoice from Moncton, N.B.-based Montana Consulting.

Becker said she is "livid" about what Wiggins-Colwell has had to go through over the past few months because of the statue. "She did nothing wrong," she said. "This is small town politics. This is just pettiness."

As for Wiggins-Colwell, she said in an interview she wants to move on from sandpiper drama "and get onto what's really important for Tantramar."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 17, 2023.

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