Conflict of interest

I have separated this from the school thread because I think it deserves some consideration of its own.

Firstly, I do not want this to appear as criticism of Anna.  I worked with Anna for 18 years and know that she did not take lightly the decision to excuse herself from the rezoning debate.  She was not shirking her responsibility; she was not afraid of making a tough decision.  I am certain of that.  She probably felt honour bound to excuse herself from a school related issue and I respect her decision.  Posters in the other thread have stated clearly the dilemma Anna was in.

However, I am concerned at the extent this might go.  As far as I can tell, conflict of interest refers to private gain.  In the vast majority of cases this means monetary gain.  In the school debate the only person who gains monetarily from this is the owner of the building to be rented and he is not on council.  Had he been on council there would have been no question that a conflict existed.  Nobody else gains.  They might gain or lose votes because of the decision they made, but that is the price they pay for putting themselves up for elected office.

Again, I have no clear answer to this but I am wondering.

Should Sheila Gordon-Payne excuse herself from any discussion that might involve extended health care (Acropolis Manor) in the city because of her affiliation with the hospital?
Should Joy Thorkleson excuse herself from any union related debate because of her relationship with the labour council and her own union.
Should Nelson Kinney or Gina Garon who may be members of or affiliated with the Chamber of Commerce excuse themselves from decisions that affect the business community in town.

Even though none of them may gain personally from the decision.

My gut reaction says no.  We elected these people knowing their biases.  They have constituents who they hope will speak for them.  And as always we wil have an opportunity to vote them out if we feel their biases are not in the city’s best interest. 

But I might be wrong.

I tend to agree with your, DWhite.  Anna was elected because of her views.  It wouldn’t surprise anybody that she thought and acted like a teacher.  Everyone who voted for her, including me, knows this in advance.  It’s not a conflict just because one belongs to a certain group – in this case, because she is employed by the city’s largest employer.

It’s just strange to me that if we exclude people who are in any way connected to an issue, we’ll be having a small minority of people making decisions.  For the Pacific Coast School issue, for example, people with children in school, those who have or have had connections with Cow Bay, own businesses, or even shop there, all could be considered to be in conflict.  That’s just crazy.

Anna has an account here, and I’m hoping she will post her thoughts.

I think you are right too.  Anna has opted out for apparently good reason but her voice as an educator on the council should be as respected as the voice of a person linked to businesses.  This is how a good council should work:  fair representation from the electorate.
However, I think this post  from teacher in the other thread (quoted partially here) explains well why Anna abstained:

I think Anna being new at politics decided to use caution in this case.  I would have done the same.

I understand that for sure, and I again call on Anna to post her thoughts.

Here’s a thought – if you’re going to abstain from any decision that would provoke a reaction (from your employer or others), then you probably shouldn’t be in politics.  People are elected to make decisions, and we elect them knowing their occupations, biases and beliefs.  When I voted for Anna, I wanted an educator’s voice on council.  I didn’t vote for her so that whenever there may be a positive or negative reaction from the education community that she would abstain. 

But to answer “Teacher’s” point:  should councillors be afraid to “risk” a reaction?  Should councillors abstain whenever there is an accusation of being subservient?

If Councillor Thorkelson votes on a union-related matter, you think she cares whether or not people think she’s just voting pro-union?  I know she doesn’t.  She was elected with her thoughts, beliefs and convictions out in the open.

Same with those who are members the Chamber of Commerce – do you believe they should abstain from any business-related vote?  Lest they be accused of being subservient, or lest they provoke “a reaction” in their workplaces?

Again, I have no problem with Anna abstaining, it’s her decision.  We elect representatives and have to live with them.  However, she stated at the council meeting that she didn’t think she could be impartial.  I don’t think that’s conflict of interest – it’s confusing jury duty with council duty :wink:    It’s ok to have a bias, as long as the electorate know that bias when you’re elected.  Otherwise, why have different candidates at all?  Just have impartial judges run council.

I too would like to hear from Anna, so that we could have her definition of the conflict.
If you are going to be on council then you need to be prepared to make decisions and not hide under conflict of interest.
To those of you who may not know, no councillor or mayor can abstain from a vote as set out in the Municipal Act. Every vote on council including the mayor’s vote carries equal weight. If when the vote is taken and a member of council does not indicate one way or the other then it is automatically considered an affirmative vote. The mayor does not have a deciding per se.

I agree totally that there was no conflict of interest in this instance.
I just cannot understand why somebody, who has experience in a certain field, would not be able to share their opinion in a debate on ,said, issue. A person’s experiences and, as such, their biases are usually what got them in office.
If this is the template for conflict of interest in Prince Rupert, than our council is seriously hamstrung, and unable to function as a productive and informed council.(meaning that the people who are informed on the issues will not be able to take part in any decisions relating to their field of expertise)

Dear HTMF members and guests,

Several people have asked me to post my reasons for declaring myself in a conflict of interest.  I will attempt to do so now .  The decision was not made lightly, nor was it done in an attempt to extricate myself from a difficult situation.  I was not, as some have hinted “taking the easy way outâ€

Thanks for the response and insight into your decision.
I still disagree with you though.
Forgive me, as I do not know the nature of your employment with SD #52, but if I am assuming right, being simply an employee is far different that Brigglio’s direct involvement as a Board Member or whatever role he serves in the Credit Union. 
I do not think, “We” as citizens of Prince Rupert can settle for this type of situation to serve as the template for Conflict of Interest or how Council does business.
I do however agree with you thoughts about clarifying the COI definition in order to remove the dabate.

I agree that you and the other members of council need to clarify the meaning of conflict.
I still believe you misinterpreted the meaning


Forgive me, as I do not know the nature of your employment with SD #52, but if I am assuming right, being simply an employee is far different that Brigglio’s direct involvement as a Board Member or whatever role he serves in the Credit Union. 
I do not think, “We” as citizens of Prince Rupert can settle for this type of situation to serve as the template for Conflict of Interest or how Council does business.[/quote]

As far as I can see she did the right thing and there isn’t much to interpret. If there is a chance you can be influenced by someone who isn’t at arms length then there is potential for conflict of interest. And yes “we” as citizens can settle for this honest and obviously right approach to moral dilemnas.

Thank-you for your clarification Anna.

It should be noted that by answering this question in this particular forum is a great example of openness, accountability and communication with the electorate.

In the other thread I stated that you were correct in recusing yourself, for conflict of interest also includes the perception of conflict of interest.

Conflict of interest is a very serious issue for politicians, and I believe the interests of democracy are best served if politicians err on the side of caution if there is any debate about their possible conflict.

The issue in question is a very emotional one for many Rupertites, based on the postings here, but the question of Anna’s conflict is a separate issue and should be treated as such.

Can someone explain to me why Councillor Bedard ran for re election if she continues to keep missing council sessions.

She was the most recalcitrant of the last session and isn’t off to a great start this time around, missing out on a vote that she might have been able to provide some information on considering her day job.

Not a great start for the new gang           

I too want to thank Anna for her clarification and I want to again emphasize that Anna was not the issue.  Given the circumstances I can see why she decided to exclude herself.  Considering the timeline, the sketchy advice,  and the consequences of a wrong choice, erring on the side of caution was the prudent thing to do.  My reason for the original post was not to question Anna but to question other councillors/situations where perceived conflict arises.

The example of Tony Briglio is different.  His place of employment would gain financially from the decision of council.  Anna’s place of employment gains nothing.  Had SD52 asked to have Kanata or Seal Cove rezoned to industrial or residential from school with the intention of selling for a greater price,  then yes a School District employee might be considered in conflict.  In this case the School District was asking for a change so they could implement a program that would benefit some students.  Where is the pecuniary gain direct or indirect in that? 

I think we can applaud Anna for making sure she was not breaking any rules.  But I really think people see teacher and school board and automatically assume conflict of interest.  If we are expecting our councillors to be as stringent about perceived conflict as in Anna’s case then, as I and others have pointed out, we should be seeing a lot more councillors excusing themselves from debate. 

Is that what we want?  City staff should be helping councillors clarify this situation.

Can you provide some clarification or expand on situations involving other councillors? Part of the problem with Conflict of Interest, particularly in a municipal setting, is that the circumstances are usually different for every potential conflict and can vary greatly.  I think the problem is when you have issues on the periphery of conflicts of interest. 

We could probably all agree that a reasonable person would quickly conclude that it would be a conflict for Councillor “Z” to vote or discuss a matter pertaining to his/her personal application for their business to become a contract supplier of city services.  But, where would you draw the line in a matter say … of an application for a development variance permit so that Councillor “V” could build a new carport?  One could argue that there is no direct monetary value to that Councillor, and indeed it is costing him/her money.  However, the flip side is that the improvement in the form of a new carport would enhance the property and its underlying value. 

In that case, Courts have ruled that it would be a conflict regardless.  Indeed if we remember, it was deck improvements that helped sink a Premier of BC. 

Part of the other problem is that even if Councillor “V” voted or discussed the matter, unless members of the public challenged it in Court or unless Council voted to “censure” the councillor, there really is no consequence to “V” - unless enough voters made it an issue three years later at election time.

The myriad of circumstances giving rise to conflict of interest is what complicates the matter and makes for such wonderful bulletin board fodder.  One could discuss the various iterations of a hypothetical conflict of interest for many a day and night.  :smile:

We could deal with hypotheticals but right now we aren’t.

Anna as a SD52 employee felt there was a perceived conflict (I would use bias).  She didn’t have time to get legal advice.  She weighed the consequences of choosing the wrong course so stepped aside.  Gina Garon was a member of the Cow Bay Merchants Association for 12 years.  I don’t now how closely she is tied to the association now, but I can see people assuming a perceived conflict (I would use bias).    She chose to remain in the debate and voted.

I was just wondering whether employment alone puts you in conflict more so than affiliation through other organizations. 

Does the fear of what a boss might think (even though there are union and/or legal defenses against harassment) carry more weight than the fear of what your friends at church, at the Rotary, or at the golf course might think.

And we are not actually talking about conflict but the perception of conflict.  It’s not as if the boss is influencing a councillor but the public’s perception that it could happen.  And we are certainly not talking about any councillor -anybody for that matter except the owner of the building - gaining financially from this particular vote.

The School Board may have to make zoning application for another building.  I want clarification for Anna’s sake so she knows for sure whether or not she can participate in that decision. 

I concur with every thing that DWhite is saying here.  I believe that Anna only did what she felt was right by stepping aside and avoiding a possible Conflict of Interest.  However, we pay huge salaries to our top executives in City Hall who should have been able to guide Anna in the right direction.  Where did they stand in this matter?

I agree with DWhite on several counts.  First, I have no doubt that Anna Ashely is of a moral character to rise above “perceived” conflicts when put to the test.  I applaud her diligence in pursuing an unassailable ethical position on this.  Second, there is a general need here for clarification of conflict as it relates to this, or any other, question before council.  In my (humble) opinion, some members of the community are “more equal than others” when it comes to issues of conflict.  Perhaps not in absolute ethical terms, but apparently in terms of practical conduct.  The example of Ms. Garon and her previous ties to Cow Bay merchants is a case in point.
    Third, and most importantly, since this is an issue that it likely to return before Council (either this building or another), there needs to be work done in the meantime to ensure that all our representatives who should vote, do vote. 

I’m pretty sure that a Councillor is only really in conflict when he or she might gain financially in a given situation. Councillor Ashley probably wasn’t in conflict, but I don’t think anyone can really fault her for playing it safe around such a touchy issue. In that respect, since Councillor Garon won’t be affected financially by the location of the new school, it doesn’t matter that she has ties to the business community in Cow Bay.

As someone said earlier–we elect our Councillors and Mayor because of their places in the community, no in spite of them.

Here is my take on the Conflict of Interest.
Firstly, good for you Anna for posting on HTMF a response. But I think you took this one too far by stating a Conflict of Interest. Simply speaking you would have not gained from this decision.
I would think you could have provided some much needed insight on the topic.
When we elect people to position such as City Council we do so because they have knowledge, experience, committment and passion for the City (among other skills). The knowledge part is very important. I expect the Council elect to use their knowledge for the benefit of the City. It is not too often you elect someone that is a all round expereince and knowledgeable person on every topic. In fact probably not realistic.
I say chaulk this one up as inexperience, so seek a legal opinion if you think it is really necessary but most inportantly get in the game. Help out don’t sit back and not participate. Whether you are for or against this particular issue, don’t sit on the fence and use Conflict of Interest as a scapegoat.

I think we can agree that nobody was in conflict on this vote.  Whether it was inexperience, extra caution, an honest misreading of the law, or poor advice, the fact remains that Anna was NOT using conflict as an excuse to stay out of the game.  To suggest otherwise is highly unfair.