“It’s gonna be one of those days,” Mayor Peter Milobar warned part way through this week’s City council meeting.
“One of those days” might otherwise be described as the conflict-of-interest merry-go-round. Councillors were up and down like elbows at a Christmas social.
There was the carriage-house application, for example. Coun. Donovan Cavers declared a conflict and left chambers because he wants to live in a carriage house his mother Anne Grube plans to build off a Douglas Street alleyway.
Coun. Marg Spina vacated because she had an application of her own in front of council not long ago. Coun. Tina Lange wasn’t taking any chances, declaring a conflict because she’s a landlord.
With public submissions on the matter dealt with, council moved on to a liquor application from the seniors centre. Milobar excused himself because he’s in the liquor-sales business.
Cavers, Spina and Lange passed him on their way back in. The liquor application sorted out, Milobar returned for discussion on a couple of dog variances.
Then Grube’s carriage house was back for debate. Out go Cavers, Spina and Lange. The six remaining councillors approve a public hearing, and the other three come back in.
But wait. Milobar declares another conflict, this time on the Kamloops United Church development because “it’s a perception thing.” The perception thing being that he has relatives involved in the church, though he himself isn’t a member. Lange goes, too.
Deputy Mayor Ken Christian (who does a fine job running a meeting, by the way) returns to the big chair. “I have been to that church but I don’t think I’m in conflict,” he remarks a little sardonically. Meanwhile, Spina isn’t sure whether she has another conflict because, unlike the mayor, she is a member of the church. Staff says it depends on how heavily involved she is.
“… Not heavily involved,” Spina confesses, and stays. That’s what it’s come down to — how often you attend church. Seems rather like worshipping at the altar of caution.
If this keeps up, council will have to install a roundabout at the doorway to the coffee room. While the traffic isn’t always as heavy as it was Tuesday, this surely must be the most conflict-declaring council ever. There are two issues here. The first involves genuine conflict of interest, the main rule being that a conflict exists if a councillor has a “pecuniary interest,” that is, financial stake, in the outcome.
Cavers, for example, was absolutely correct in the way he handled the carriage-house application, absenting himself from discussion or voting. Milobar frequently excuses himself over liquor applications, and Nancy Bepple routinely steps away from any discussions about Ajax because she owns shares in a partner mining company. At other times, Lange and Singh leave the room over real-estate matters.
Real conflicts are a fact of life, but combined with all the “perceived” conflicts we’re getting turnstile governance. Council members would do well to take a case-by-case look at their record over the past year and more clearly define what’s real and perceived when it comes to conflicts.