Conflict guidelines confuse council

New conflict of interest exceptions handed down by the province have city council looking for guidance as to whose interests they are representing.

A report from the provincial ministry of community, sport and cultural development said the new regulations allow elected local government officials to be appointed to certain society or corporate boards without fear of disqualification from office based on financial conflict of interest.

The report says the rules don’t diminish existing accountability rules for conflict of interest based on personal gain or interest but will apply when councillors “fulfil their role as duly appointed representatives of their local governments on certain society and corporate boards.”

That caused Coun. Charlie Cornfield to question the role of the mayor and councillors who sit on the Strathcona Regional District board.

“At the Strathcona Regional District, for example, we are told we are there to serve as directors of that organization. We’re not there to represent the city,” Cornfield said at last week’s Tuesday council meeting. “This would seem to imply that it’s okay for us to represent the interest of the city. Am I correct in my interpretation?”

City Clerk Peter Wipper said he would bring back a report to council that breaks down the province’s decision “and how it can impact the operations of (the city’s) committees, commissions and your representation on the Strathcona Regional District board, just to provide you with some clarity as to how this will impact you.”

Mayor Andy Adams said he hopes the new regulations will put an end to voting divisions that often exist on external boards.

“I think as we have clearly witnessed in other jurisdictions, that often areas are voting as a block and not as directors of that representative organization,” Adams said. “It’s either one way or the other.”

The new rules protect local government officials from a state of conflict when discussing and voting on matters concerning the society or corporation that they’ve been appointed to by their city councils.

Elected officials are still not allowed, however, to receive a gift or personal financial benefit while sitting on any society or corporate board.

Perceived conflicts of divided loyalty between a local elected official’s personal interest in a society or corporation and their role on a local government also still remain potential conflicts under these regulations.

“Such issues should be managed carefully with the assistance of legal advice as they can still be subject to challenge,” according to the province’s release.

The new conflict of interest regulations have come out of a January, 2013 BC Court of Appeal (BCCA) verdict involving two elected Local Trust Committee members on Saltspring Island.

The court found the pair to be in a conflict of interest for voting to approve grants to two societies on which they also served even though they didn’t stand to personally benefit financially.