"In situations where a conflict exists, or there is a perception of a conflict, it is not sufficient to merely live up to one's obligations; it is necessary to do so in a timely, open, forthright, constructive and accountable manner."
UBC board of governors, Policy 97, as revised Feb. 2, 2012
WE can only wonder what persuades people to stand for election - to any level of government.
While many of them seem to forget their promises the day after being elected, others receive brickbats for being determined to stay the course.
Time-consuming and challenging though they are, the duties of a councillor are not considered a full-time job; so incumbents often need to work at another job to maintain their income and/or career.
Such is the case for City of North Vancouver Coun. Rod Clark, who works for Whitewater Concrete, a sub-trade company at an Onni Group development in Richmond.
An experienced politician, Clark sought a legal opinion in May 2012 to see whether his "day job" put him in a conflict of interest should he participate in council discussion about Onni's proposal for the Safeway site at 13th and Lonsdale.
He was assured there was no conflict.
Clark's caution was a wise move and had he gone further to air that opinion on a subsequent council agenda, the innuendos that surfaced last month might have been scotched at source.
They also could have been scotched had Mayor Darrell Mussatto taken five minutes to quietly confirm Clark's status - as most personnel matters are handled.
Instead, by telling reporters and talk-show listeners that conflict issues are for the individual to settle, Mussatto allowed the rumours to dangle unresolved in the minds of the media and the community.
Meanwhile, Coun. Pam Bookham, aware that 2,000 or so residents had signed petitions protesting density and increased traffic should the Onni proposal go ahead, believed they had not had a chance to voice those concerns at the marathon public hearing Dec. 19.
Accordingly, she voted with Clark and Couns. Guy Heywood and Don Bell to hold a second public hearing this month or, as now seems more likely, in February.
Not only was she within her rights to do so, some might argue it was her responsibility to guarantee those voices were heard. Yet for that, she not only suffered well-advertised retaliation from the developer, she and Clark have also suffered brickbats from some of their colleagues.
No matter which side of the development you're on, that behaviour is inappropriate.
Some years ago, the question of a possible conflict of interest was raised in the District of North Vancouver, shortly before that council approved the Lynn Valley library and town centre project.
It arose because Coun. Alan Nixon was the broker of a realty firm whose commercial arm was the leasing agent for the space adjacent to the new library.
Nixon sought a legal opinion, following which he notified an open meeting of council he had been advised he was not in conflict and that he had no pecuniary interest at stake should council approve the project.
Nevertheless, because there was a possibility that "perception of conflict" might arise in the minds of the community, Nixon recused himself from the discussion and the vote.
Not so when, in April 2007, seven Lower Mainland mayors - including Mussatto and District of North Vancouver Mayor Richard Walton - travelled to China on a trip paid for by Li Zhe, president of the Canada-China Business Association and owner of LVC Investments Inc.
As Frances Bula reported in the Vancouver Sun on May 4, 2007, they took the trip - accompanied by, among others, a representative of the Onni Group - because "they believed . . . it was being paid for by someone who was never going to do business in their municipalities. . . ."
Of course, "never" is a long time in the lives of investment companies and developers, so the mayors would have been wiser to stay home or ask their councils to approve the expenditures as a trade mission.
For more reasons than those raised in this story, the 10-year old Community Charter is overdue for a refit.
Clauses covering public hearings should establish mandatory rules for fair process regarding speakers' sign-up sheets and require alternating pro-con presentations.
Hearings should adjourn at 10: 30 p.m. and resume later if necessary.
Conflict of interest clauses need to be clarified and strengthened.
The legislation requires mayors to read a preamble to public hearings which explains the code of conduct for speakers and the audience. The Charter should apply those rules to members of council who are interviewed about community opinions and their own colleagues' positions.
Members of council - and developers - need to know there is nothing NIMBY or "generational" at play when people demand an ethical, open and transparent process on issues that affect them.
When councils and developers respect the official community plans the community has spent time and money to establish, residents rarely put them through the type of wringer the city barely survived as 2012 wound down to its bitter end.
Let us hope the Christmas break allowed them some time for sober second thought about their unacceptable behaviour. email@example.com
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