A Squamish councillor is seeking legal advice on whether he can take part in the community’s decisions surrounding the future of the Oceanfront property.
Coun. Ted Prior announced last week he would no longer be allowed to partake in council conversations regarding the Squamish Oceanfront Development Corporation (SODC), a determination that was made in a closed-door meeting.
Prior owns land on the west side of Cattermole Slough, across from the 60-acre District of Squamish property known as the Oceanfront land.
“I was on the board of the SODC and I didn’t have a problem then,” Prior said.
Prior was an addition to the original SODC board. During his six-year stint, Prior said he didn’t take part in land decisions affecting the area adjacent to his property — specifically issues regarding possible roadway connections near or through Cattermole Slough to the Oceanfront.
“I wrote a letter saying I supported whatever plan the SODC came up with [regarding the slough],” he said.
Prior said he understands not being allowed to partake in the Oceanfront land use decisions. However, he questions why he’s being barred taking part in process and business conversations.
With the SODC board having dropped from 14 members to three, Prior said it’s vital that as many eyes as possible remain on the board’s dealings.
“I am getting legal advice,” he said, noting Coun. Doug Race threatened legal action against him if Prior didn’t step away from council’s Oceanfront talks.
Corporations have more lenient conflict rules than municipalities, Race said. Although Race said he believes Prior’s heart is in the right place, having him vote on SODC issues could cost the municipality a lot of money and potentially strike down a sale of the Oceanfront project.
Councillors are in conflict if they vote on issues that could lead to personal financial gain, either directly or indirectly, Race noted. The issue also arises if there is a reasonable apprehension of bias — such as a councillor volunteering with an organization and then voting on topics regarding the group.
If Prior is in conflict and votes on SODC motions, it not only brings the integrity of the decision into question, but the bylaw or resolution that Prior voted on can be set aside, Race said.
SODC is entering a process in which there could be a potential sale or partnership, Race said. Large corporate transactions are vetted by the vendor’s lawyer, who gives an opinion of the necessary resolutions pertaining to the property. If the district’s lawyer knew a councillor in potential conflict voted on a bylaw, it might make it difficult for the lawyer to give an opinion, Race said.
“There are going to be major decisions; in fact it is, I think, the largest single decision that has ever faced this community,” he said. “It is critical that it be done absolutely correctly. It may be done under intense scrutiny, as these things do if there are competing bidders.”