"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

Friday, 20 February 2009

While We Are On The Subject of Conflict

Another odd thing happened at Council recently. Councillor Gaertner applied for and received $1 thousand grant for the Hot Spot Club. The Councillor created the club and has operated it for fourteen years.

It's a Friday night dance and gathering facility for young people within an age group. It has been financed from Bingo funds for years and an admission charge. I'm not sure if there's a membership. It is a not-for-profit enterprise which does not mean remuneration is not being paid.

Councillor Gaertner declared a Conflict of Interest which indicates a personal financial interest, when the item came up for consideration. She did not participate in the deliberation. Staff recommended the grant be provided.

There are conditions for receiving a grant. Financial statements must be provided and seventy-five per cent of participants must be from Aurora. The application was considered at committee.

The problem occurred to me later. I made a phone call in the morning to determine if the Conflict had occurred to staff." Absolutely" was the answer, "But it's not our place to advise a Councillor there's a Conflict."

I sent an e-mail and asked for a response before the matter came to Council for confirmation. I was advised my question had been referred to the legal department. We did not have a lawyer on staff. Haven't had for a year or more.

I received no answer.

The Conflict of Interest Act is intended to ensure public officials do not use their position to benefit themselves financially. It strikes me it is not enough to refrain from participating in the deliberation. Asking for the money in the first place created the Conflict.

I didn't say it in Council because I 'm not sure I 'm right. I may be the only one with misgivings. In fact, in committee Councillor MacEachern and Mayor Morris both raised the possibility of providing regular financial assistance to Hot Spot.

I had a problem with Councillor Gaertner's ownership of Hot Spot once before. In the last term, Leisure Services Advisory Committee was considering use of space in the old library building. Councillor Gaertner was a member of the committee and participated in creating a formula to determine which groups contributed most and were most deserving. I thought that was weird as well but that's what they did.

After the formula was created , Councillor Gaertner made an application, declared a conflict of interest, and was granted space. I argued then the Conflict happened during participation in the formula and fee creating stage but it was like spitting into the wind. Thinking like that has won me the reputation for being the nastiest person alive.

Councillor Gaertner is not a calculating individual. She would not knowingly exploit her position to gain a financial advantage. At the same time....that may have happened.

Councillors cannot receive advice from the town solicitor. They must retain a lawyer and make their own decision. It seems there is no advice for Council either. Public funds can be granted which should not be received. Gut instinct tells me that can't be right.

To further complicate things ,the application and the grant were made after the 2008 books were closed, In public financing, money not spent by year end cannot be spent. period. In accounting parlance, they no longer exist.

I frankly suspect, though the recommendation came from staff. the decision was made at another level.


Robert the Bruce said...

Boy oh boy, I should be on council.... I said to friends and family when Councillor Gaertner was first elected that she should resign from any involvement in The Hot Spot because it could create a conflict later. I see myself as vindicated.

The very act of running an enterprise (be it for profit or not) with ties to the Town (grants, use of buildings or facilities, etc.) creates a conflict any time the money, building or facility comes up for discussion during a council meeting.

Provincial and Ferderal members must place their business interests into a blind trust once elected. This is to deal with conflicts. I think Municipal members should do similar things.

This also extends to council members that are members of citizen groups (ie. SWAT).

Open and transparent government we have here....


Anonymous said...

Are you saying that by making the application she was in a conflict?

I'm not sure, but I don't think the COI act is as wide ranging as you imply. Maybe you can post the applicable section.

Anonymous said...

Wikipedia Definition: A conflict of interest occurs when an individual or organization (such as a lawyer, insurance adjuster, politician, engineer, executive, director of a corporation, medical research scientist, physician, writer, editor, or an individual or organization cited as a source) has an interest that might compromise their reliability. A conflict of interest exists even if no improper act results from it, and can create an appearance of impropriety that can undermine confidence in the conflicted individual or organization. A conflict can be mitigated by third party verification or third party evaluation noted below – but it still exists.

What the hell is going on in council chambers? It would appear that even the most quiet of them all has a personal adgenda! What else can happen? This should go down in the history books as the most disfunctional council of all time, our Aurora forefathers should be rolling in their graves.

Anonymous said...

Remember Evelyn is a Forefather

Aurora 5 by 5 said...

Let's all be fair to Wendy, shall we? She is a kind soul that means no harm. I really doubt she even realizes that she has a conflict of interest. The two evil harridans that pretend to be her "friend" most definitely DO know she's in a conflict (imagine what they'd do to Buck if she tried to access Town funds through a grant!!!) - not quite sure why they are not providing her with any "friendly" advice. Given their combined council experience of 21 years, I am sure they know what's what (or at least think they do!) I guess they have their reasons for not helping her...

To my mind, as long as Wendy doesn't actually accept any cash, then she's not in that much of a jackpot.

Yes, she shouldn't have applied for a grant from the Town while she's sitting as a Councillor. That's a conflict of interest in any one's book. (And for the record - not voting on it doesn't erase the conflict - it just makes it less obvious.)

Not trying to minimize here (so don't jump all over me!!!) But, from what I understand, the grant application Wendy put forward is to offset the facilty rental. It's not for cash per se. So the thousand bucks is really an in and out - the charges for the facilities will be forgiven so to speak.

That's not so bad...

It's not as though the Town is handing her a thousand bucks or cutting her a cheque for heaven's sake!!

Come on now people!!

Anonymous said...

To the Anonymous post at 11:40 am:

I know it's apples and oranges, but saying that as long as Wendy doesn't accept cash is like saying 'a little bit pregnant'. If she's got a conflict, then that's what she's got.

I understand that Councillor Gaertner means well and isn't out to do anything wrong. But there is still a conflict. Maybe she should find another volunteer to be 'in charge' so they can ask for grants on behalf of Hot Spot?

Goodie Two Shoes said...

I agree a conflict is a conflict.
As far as no cash in pocket, if you were going to pay your rent and someone else paid it for you,(wow wouldn't that be a treat!)you are now ahead in your bank account. Same as cash in pocket!
If we all just ask will we all receive?

Anonymous said...

"Yes, she shouldn't have applied for a grant from the Town while she's sitting as a Councillor. "


And nobody STOPPED HER at this point. If she honestly didn't know what she was doing was wrong, then why didn't someone say anything? Evelyn, I can understand you couldn't say anything (in public) or else the Mayor would have ordered that they remove your head.

But... my goodness, someone should have clued the woman in.

A financial gain is a financial gain, no matter how you look at it.