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?
Plus, Fryer also declared a conflict about voting for the matter of dissolving the utility board (PUC), wipe out the excellent and beneficial 150-year-old relationship, and create a dog’s breakfast water board populated entirely by self-serving but inexperienced and uninformed councillors. He declared a conflict, he said, because he was appointed to that board and received a stipend for his attendance.
What was up with that? Why didn’t he follow the mayor’s lead – who voted on the question, even though she is also a member and also received a stipend. Once again, the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act is clear:
Exceptions Where s. 5 does not apply
4. Section 5 does not apply to a pecuniary interest in any matter that a member may have,
(h) by reason only of the member being a director or senior officer of a corporation incorporated for the purpose of carrying on business for and on behalf of the municipality or local board or by reason only of the member being a member of a board, commission, or other body as an appointee of a council or local board;
(i) in respect of an allowance for attendance at meetings, or any other allowance, honorarium, remuneration, salary or benefit to which the member may be entitled by reason of being a member or as a member of a volunteer fire brigade, as the case may be…
Yet there he was, making a self-aggrandizing statement about having a conflict when there was none. Why didn’t he read the Act first? He’s had almost eight months to do so (everyone who even decides to run for office should read it before announcing!).
To top it all off – if Fryer sits on the new water management board, as he requested, is that ethical? After all, he declared a conflict about voting to create it. Plus, he was CFO in the PUC before he retired and ran for council. Employees, even ex-employees, can have axes to grind, and some current employees may suffer if there were previous conflicts. There could be friction – and that’s bad for everyone in the community.
Fryer needs to start reading the laws and the rules that govern him and the rest of council, before he makes a bigger mess of things. There’s no excuse for anyone at the table not having done so this far into their term.
* No Income, No Job or Assets.