Fledgling councillors may be excused for gaffes, gaucheries and solecisms they make in their first month or so in office. They’re new, inexperienced, dazzled by their recent election success, so we cut them some slack. And there are all these shiny things to distract a councillor: procedure, voting, reading, motions, shuffling paper, approving minutes, showing up…
But after more than six months, one expects them to know what they are doing and get down to the business of the municipality. And we expect them to have read ALL the relevant legislation, policies and codes that govern them.
Councillor Tim Fryer doesn’t seem to have done that. And you’d think a guy who campaigned on having 35 years of municipal experience would know better.
Monday night, Fryer declared a conflict of interest over the opening of Third Street into the commercial land west of High Street, because, in his words, his sister was a member of the corporation run by his brother-in-law, and the business of that company was being discussed. Wait a second…
In at least four previous votes this year involving his brother-in-law’s company, Fryer did not once declare a conflict. He voted on several issues (even going in camera to discuss them) that affected and benefitted that company. So why the change now? A sudden burst of conscience?
Calling a conflict on this issue is tantamount to admitting all of his previous votes were improper. But were they?
Not according to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. Sisters, brothers and in-laws do not pose a legal conflict. The Act says very specifically that only spouses, parents and children count for conflict:
Interest of certain persons deemed that of member
3. For the purposes of this Act, the pecuniary interest, direct or indirect, of a parent or the spouse or any child of the member shall, if known to the member, be deemed to be also the pecuniary interest of the member.
Yes, I know, some folks think they know better than the law, think they can interpret it to suit themselves, and believe you should declare a conflict when any relative is involved. That’s codswallop: councillors have to obey the law, not what some NINJA* blogger or coffee shop gossiper says is right or wrong. Those folks are only pushing their own, narrow, private agendas of spite and malice.
Legally, as per the Act, Fryer did not have a conflict.
However, if you, as councillor, feel there is an ethical conflict that should be addressed, and that by declaring a conflict you are making the proper ethical choice, then by all means, stand away from the table, But you have to do it consistently. You can’t decide to be part of discussions and votes on some issues surrounding your sister’s company, and not others. You can’t decide to vote when something matters, but cop out when you think it’s trivial. Conflicts aren’t based on the phase of the moon.
If it represented a conflict of interest this week, were all of his previous actions where he voted for his sister’s company now proven unethical?
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