Editor’s note: This is a copy of a letter that was sent to the Squamish-Lillooet Regional District board. It was forwarded to The Chief for publication.
I have recently been forwarded a copy of Chair Patricia Heintzman’s Feb. 8, 2013 letter to the Union of B.C. Municipalities regarding the recent “Schlenker” Court of Appeal decision.
As a former Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee Trustee (2002-2005), I had closely followed the conflict of interest case which involved two Trustees, both of whom were the chairs and directors of the two non-profit societies in question.
With all due respect, I must take exception to the concerns expressed in Ms. Heintzman’s letter.
The Community Charter’s open government meeting provisions were specifically created to protect the public’s interest. They were crafted not only to guard against “conflict of interests” but also to ensure the public’s business is not conducted behind closed doors.
Private societies and non-governmental organizations, regardless of their merits, are separate entities from government.
When I ran for office, I was under the firm understanding that, if elected, I would represent the entire electorate, not some other entity, for, as the Schlenker decision clearly supports, one cannot serve two masters.
The primary question which Schlenker has raised is whether it is appropriate for an elected representative, who is also a Director of a private society, to participate in the discussions surrounding, or the decisions necessary to enable, a funding request from the private society.
It is, for all purposes, implausible to think that a funding request from a society to a local government would not have come to the attention or participation of a chair or director of that society, and certainly, to a director who was also on the very council which would be asked to consider the funding request. In that situation it is reasonable to assume the director/councillor is already in favour of the funding request for his/her society — hence a double challenge is created, that of “conflict of interest” and potential “fettering of discretion.”
Members of the public must be able to place their trust in their elected representatives to act only in their best interests. The price which must therefore be paid by councillors, who choose to also be directors of societies, is that they must remove themselves from any decision-making process, with respect to their societies, at council meetings.
The Community Charter regulations were created to protect the public trust, not politicians. And, while I recognize the Appeal Court decision may, as Ms. Heintzman points out, require a council to “parse out” a few items in a budget, it is a small price to pay to ensure the public’s overall trust in politicians is not further eroded.
In fact, by bringing this matter to the public’s attention, all local politicians can proudly prove they are serving their “master” to the best of their ability.
I therefore urge you to reconsider your request to the UBCM, and, if the issue is raised at UBCM this fall, please vote against any changes which will diminish the effectiveness of the Community Charter as it applies to the open meeting rules.
Former Islands Trustee
Salt Spring Island