An editorial by Mel Rothenburger.
ONE OF THE GREATEST SOURCES of anxiety for civic politicians is running afoul of conflict-of-interest rules.
A Vancouver City councillor named Michael Wiebe faces losing his seat. Wiebe failed to excuse himself from a council decision on allowing restaurants to temporarily extend their patios into on-street parking. The eatery he owns was among those later approved for a patio extension.
Wiebe says he was told he was not in conflict because the new policy was citywide, but the Georgia Straight reported Sunday that an independent investigation says Wiebe should resign or be removed by a court order.
The interesting thing about this is that Kamloops Coun. Denis Walsh participated in the decision to approve temporary patio extensions here and has faced no such sanctions. Walsh is a partner in The Vic coffee shop, which became the first business to receive approval.
There are differences, however. The Vancouver report says Wiebe’s restaurant ownership wasn’t raised when the council decision was made.
When the issue came up at a Kamloops City council meeting May 26, Walsh fully participated in the debate and vote.
But, during that meeting, corporate officer Maria Mazzotta ruled that Walsh wasn’t in a conflict because the decision applies to businesses across the city and he therefore has “an interest in common” with those businesses and could vote on it. If it applied only to street-corner businesses like The Vic it would be a different story, she said.
The report on Coun. Wiebe says that since so few restaurants benefitted from the patios, Wiebe’s ownership of a restaurant “cannot be considered a pecuniary interest in common with the electors of the city in general.”
So, in one case, it’s a conflict while in another it’s not.
In my view, the Vancouver report is over-reach but it goes to show you the landmines that await civic politicians unless they’re extremely careful.
Mel Rothenburger is a former mayor of Kamloops and a retired newspaper editor. He is a regular contributor to CFJC Today, publishes the ArmchairMayor.ca opinion website, and is a director on the Thompson-Nicola Regional District board. He can be reached at email@example.com.