Ombudsman Releases Results Of Three Municipal Investigations; Marks 1,000th Municipal Complaint
Today, Saskatchewan Ombudsman Mary McFadyen, issued the results of three conflict of interest investigations. McFadyen said “It is not uncommon for municipal council members to have conflicts of interest in matters that may come before the council. If they do, they must declare the conflict and take appropriate steps to remove themselves from any discussions and decisions. Community members need to know council members are keeping their private interests separate from the decisions they make on council.” On October 24, 2017, the Office received its 1,000th municipal complaint since getting jurisdiction over municipalities on November 19, 2015.
About one third of cases are about conflicts of interest. In cases where the Ombudsman finds there was a conflict of interest and that the council did not take appropriate steps to deal with it, she decides whether to make recommendations. For example, in one case, she did not make a final recommendation because the council member resigned after getting her draft report. In the other two, she made recommendations to address the conflicts of interest and to improve the way they will be dealt with in the future.
RM of Grayson No. 184: A council member who managed his father’s construction company participated in the council’s decision to rezone land to allow for the development of a campground. The construction company had worked for the developer in the past, and the council member had given the developer an estimate to build the campground for over $500,000. The council member did not declare his conflict when the council dealt with the development permit application. He took part in public meetings about the development and voted to approve the changes to the RM’s zoning bylaw. Just days later, the company started on the campground. McFadyen found that the council member should have known that participating in these decisions gave him an opportunity to further his private interests. Because he did, ratepayers could not be sure he had acted in the community’s best interests. The Ombudsman gave a draft report of her findings to the RM and the council member to review. The council member then resigned from council, so it was unnecessary to make any recommendations.
RM of Orkney No. 244: The RM needed a waterworks operator. A council member agreed to do the work until someone was hired. Nobody responded to its ad. He has done the work since 2008. He was at the meeting when the council first appointed him and at meetings when his invoices were approved. McFadyen found he was an independent contractor, so he did not violate of section 112 of The Municipalities Act, which says council members cannot be municipal employees. However, she found that under the version of the Act in place in 2008, the member should have declared a pecuniary interest, not participated in the initial decision to hire him, and followed the conflict of interest procedures whenever the council voted on his invoices. The Ombudsman recommended that the council vote again on whether the council member should continue as waterworks operator, that he take the appropriate steps to deal with his conflict, and that all declarations of conflicts of interest be properly recorded in future council meeting minutes. The RM accepted these recommendations.
RM of Beaver River No. 622: Contrary to The Municipalities Act, the RM’s Council Procedures Bylaw, and the RM’s Gravel Testing Policy, council members participated in discussions and decisions to test for gravel on leased Crown lands when they were in a conflict of interest and did not take steps to deal with their conflicts. One council member participated in the decision to check for gravel on land he leased himself, and two others participated in a decision to test for gravel on land leased by their close relative. At first, McFadyen thought these council members were not fully aware of the conflict of interest rules. She recommended that the council take conflict of interest training and pass a bylaw to adopt improved procedures. The RM did not accept these recommendations, as the council members felt they had done nothing wrong.
McFadyen says many municipalities are still learning the new conflict of interest rules that came into force in November 2015. She said, “Our hope is that these examples will help other council members to better understand and apply the rules. To further support them, we will continue to post the results of conflict of interest investigations on our website. We have also posted a checklist they can use to help determine whether they are in a conflict of interest.”
Her Office received its 1,000th municipal complaint on October 24. About one third of these were about rural municipalities (34%), followed by cities (22%), towns (17%), villages (16%), resort villages (6%), and northern municipalities (3%).
The Ombudsman is an independent officer of the Legislative Assembly, operating under The Ombudsman Act, 2012. Her Office promotes and protects fairness and integrity in the design and delivery of provincial and municipal government services.
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