"Cowardice asks the question...is it safe? Expediency asks the question...is it politic? Vanity asks the question...is it popular? But conscience asks the question...is it right? And there comes a time when one must take a position that is neither safe, nor politic, nor popular but one must take it because it is right." ~Dr. Martin Luther King

Wednesday, 18 February 2009

Conflict of Interest

I referred in Bits and Pieces to a Councillor in Vaughan having declared a conflict of interest and the report that it may cost the municipality insurance coverage if they lose a court action. A reader seeks more detail.

Anonymous said...
What other details can you provide about Councillor MacEachern's alleged conflict of interest? Something for the integrity commissioner?

Conflict of Interest is not a difficult concept to understand. But it has been made so by the anxiety of politicians, due to dire warnings by lawyers, to declare a conflict even when they have none. 'Better to be safe than sorry' is the conventional wisdom.

The principle is that no elected or appointed officer can exploit their position of trust and influence to gain a financial advantage. A separate school trustee in Toronto has just been thrown out of office because of a conflict of interest. The only thing obvious in the news story was that he had been found guilty. Ten charges had been filed against him by a citizen.

The story in Munimail was that a Vaughan councillor declared a conflict of interest two months after he attended a closed door meeting during which a law suit between the municipality and a close friend of his was discussed. It was a news story because his declaration might cost Vaughan their insurance coverage if they lose the case.

The story was not about a councillor being in conflict. Unless he shared confidential information about the town's case with his friend and stood to gain financially from doing so, he was not. Nor did he make that admission. But by declaring a conflict and thereby suggesting the possibility of information being provided to a litigant against the town, the Vaughan councillor may have, in the eyes of the town's insurerers, jeopardized the municipality's ability to defend or prosecute the case. In the event the case was lost there may have been a denial of liability. That's the sense I take from the story.

Municipalities must carry liability insurance. Councillors are advised in the strongest terms at the slightest hint of possibility of litigation, it is imperative they keep their lips shut as tight as a clam. Councillors are regularly accused of keeping secret information the public are entitled to know by observing the rules. It may well be the hardest thing I ever had to do.

There is no option. Putting the municipality in a position of financial jeopardy is not a conflict of interest, it is a breach of trust. It is a betrayal of the Oath of Office. It is an offence under the Criminal Code.

Sending a document to a lawyer for litigants against the town, with a hand-written note suggesting it might be of interest, and said document becoming part of the public record in the courts is at least problematic.


Anonymous said...

If this can be verified - that Councillor MacEachern sent information to the lawyers of people who had a beef with the Town (were going to sue the town?) - then this is a very very serious matter and I am truly shocked that the Town's lawyer has not taken the necessary steps to address this on behalf of the residents of Aurora. Why didn’t the Lawyer advise the Councillor not to do that? Why the heck didn’t the CAO do something about it too?? With all due respect – what the heck is going on over there???

If this is true, then I cannot believe that the Councillor has been allowed to sit there for months after betraying the trust of the community she serves.

Of all the nonsense that goes on with this Council, (and many of you have been guilty of one thing or another) - this is by far the worst.

I am dumbfounded.

How can we as residents do something about this?

Please don't tell me we have to wait until election time. That is not good enough.

We do need to do something RIGHT NOW...

But first I need confirmation that what you are saying is true...You said that the documents are public? How can we get a copy???

No offence, but I’d like to see for myself.

Anonymous said...

If the shoe were on the other foot, you have to know MacEachern and her sidekick, the mayor, would be demanding heads roll. This information MUST be in front of the public. This is a very serious allegation that must be reported...but to whom and by whom can this occur? Please advise what must take place, next steps?