Alberni politicos mull conflict of interest court ruling

Port Alberni’s civic governments are dealing with a BC Court of Appeal decision regarding civic officials’ conflict of interest guidelines.

Port Alberni’s civic governments are dealing with a BC Court of Appeal decision regarding civic officials’ conflict of interest guidelines.

On Jan. 13, appeal court overturned a ruling in the Schlenker v. Torgrimson Supreme Court case. The courts deemed that two elected officials on Salt Spring Island illegally cast votes to provide money to non-profit organizations in which they were directors.

Conflict of interest is now considered pecuniary, or involving money, the judgment noted. As long as the matter involves giving public funds and the respondents have an interest then it makes no difference that they didn’t directly benefit.

A February report from the Union of B.C. Municipalities noted that “…the court decision could mean that elected officials will no longer be able to participate in non-profit societies that receive money from local government,” the report showed. “…the elected officials could be disqualified from office if they vote on matters that would benefit the society financially, even if there is no personal financial benefit to them.

The development has been on the radar of Port Alberni city council through legal bulletins and notices, and council has taken steps to deal with it, city manager Ken Watson said.

Several councillors sit on various organizations. Mayor John Douglas: Port Alberni Twinning Society; Hira Chopra: Alberni Valley Chamber of Commerce; Wendy Kerr: Community Stakeholders Initiative To End Homelessness.

But in advance of this issue, those appointments are now in liaison, non-voting capacities negating a conflict, Watson said.

The Alberni-Clayoquot Regional District is wrestling with the issue as well.

Regional district CAO Russell Dyson circulated a report about the matter to directors in advance of their March 13 meeting.

“Public officials, such as directors who are active in their community are likely to face many conflict of interest situations,” Dyson wrote. “It is important therefore that conflicts be recognized quickly and handled appropriately.”

Situations such as a re-zoning decision that impacts a director’s land value, or a decision that benefits a director’s family, associates or organization they belong to can constitute a conflict, Dyson wrote.

But the rule does not apply to interests that are held in common with the community, he noted.

ACRD officials are given a conflict of interest orientation, and directors review through the Union of BC Municipalities. But the ACRD’s policy with respect to directors’ appointments to other groups isn’t as cut and dried as the city, Dyson said.

“They’ve (city) taken the lead with liaison appointments only. We haven’t taken that approach,” he said.

“Ultimately, directors are responsible for taking action when there is a conflict.”

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