Conflict of interest controversy prevails at Red Deer City council

Two Red Deer city councillors who own downtown businesses are at odds over what could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

Two Red Deer city councillors who own downtown businesses are at odds over what could be perceived as a conflict of interest.

On Monday, city council endorsed collecting, assessing and calculating taxes on behalf of the Downtown Business Association. Council voted to continue recovering 50 per cent of the business revitalization zone costs.

But things turned awkward shortly after the debate was nearly concluded when Coun. Chris Stephan excused himself because of pecuniary interests. Stephan has a law practice on Ross Street.

Coun. Paul Harris, who also owns a downtown business, was quick to note Stephan’s departure put him in an awkward position that could be perceived as a conflict by the public. Harris said the city clerk has determined there is no conflict and there is a councillor who has “abdicated his responsibility to this council because they disagree.”

Coun. Tara Veer jumped in on a point of privilege and accused Harris of using “inflammatory” remarks and suggested that Harris rephrase his wording.

Director of Corporate Services Elaine Vincent settled the matter by saying it is up to each member of council to determine if they are in a conflict of interest or pecuniary interest situation and it is not the role of administration. Vincent said councillors must carefully consider their personal circumstances to determine if they are what could be considered a pecuniary interest situation.

Vincent said the Municipal Government Act says in a situation like this there is not likely a pecuniary interest situation but may be considered “an interest in common.”

“That’s when you have to use your own individual judgment as a member of council to determine whether or not the public perception would perceive you to be in a conflict situation,” said Vincent.

Following the tutorial, Harris said he chose to stay because he has a conscience on the matter.

“I was elected to represent the citizenry of this community, which includes our downtown business association,” said Harris. “For me it would be a personal choice to be here because that is my role and duty as a councillor … I am sitting here unbiased looking at the topic and what’s best for our community as a whole.”

In 2012, the cost of administering was $18,935 with recovery at 50 per cent or $9,468. Council also agreed to review the actual costs in two years. The city is looking to eventually recover 100 per cent of the costs.

In other council news:

• The Gaetz Avenue Vision report was adopted as a planning tool along Gaetz Avenue. The vision focuses on boulevards, centre median, feature node intersections, property improvement, downtown gateway and redevelopment. According to the document, the plan is intended “to enhance and improve business opportunities, visitor impressions, civic pride and overall function of Gaetz Avenue.” The plan is expected to be rolled out over the next 25 to 30 years. Projects and initiatives within the lengthy document will come before council for approval.

• City council dipped into its Safety Charter funds to allocate $29,000 Crime Prevention Centre to offset the operational costs to Feb. 28, 2014.

• Council agreed to defer the submission of a notice of intent to annex land for a minimum of two years. This will allow administration to determine population growth and land trends and time to plan for the future. The last city annexation was in 2009. The city has 3,602 hectares of non-urban or non-zoned land for residential, commercial, industrial, park space or industrial uses.

• Public hearings will be held in council chambers starting at 6 p.m. on Aug. 16 for the Timberlands North Area Structure Plan Amendment and the Timberlands North Land Use Bylaw Amendment. Council gave first reading to both plans.

crhyno@bprda.wpengine.com

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