Valley Politics – Times That Try Mens’ Souls

By Ron Taylor. Being a campaign manager for a successful slate of candidates is a bit like being a parent whose kids have just left school or college. You know that you have to let go but you worry as they face life’s challenges, knowing from experience that a mixture of success and failure is almost inevitable.

I was the campaign manager for the CRMG slate that swept Mission Council in 2012. Now as they face accusations of conflict of interest against one of their number I am acutely aware that they face a choice between very difficult decisions founded in integrity or stepping down the slippery slope of cover up and ethical compromise.

For a protracted period Council had been considering the purchase of the former BuyLow building on Welton Street in Mission. The plan was to purchase the building, use the site for civic purposes (possibly a UFV campus), create a “linear Plaza” in the area. This would ensure that the juncion of Welton Street and First Avenue would become “ground zero” for the redevelopment of downtown Mission. Properties in proximity to this location would obviously experience significant economic benefits. All of these discussions were held in private with only Council members being aware of the plans until the purchase was finalized around December 2nd.

Prior to the decision being made public Councillor Dave Hensman acquired a lease with an option to purchase on the very strategic property at Welton and First (the former Snipers Pool Hall). It was acquired by a complex arrangement between an investment company he controlled, a religious organization he also controlled and a church of his creation. His intention being to create a coffee shop and church at the site.

At the last two Council meetings Councillor Nelson Tilbury has questioned whether Hensman’s actions may have contravened sections of the Community Charter which, among other things, specifies ethical requirements for Councillors.

Despite Councillor Hensman’s plans the property is not zoned as a church. However at the Council meeting on 16th December Hensman argued that this zoning should be changed to allow a church. Section 101 of the Community Charter states that no Councillor may remain in or attend any meeting which affects a property in which he has an interest, much less speak on such an issue. Councillor Tilbury attempted to point out the apparent conflict but Hensman who was chairing that meeting refused even to hear his objection.

Tilbury and others have since raised further points the principal one being that Hensman voted on the purchase of the old BuyLow building and the related plans despite knowing that his leased property and the business in it stood to gain significantly from this decision. Their argument is that Section 102 of the Community Charter forbids voting on or discussing any matter which affects a business in which a Councillor has an interest.

Potential sanctions are severe. Any 5 Councillors or 10 citizens can petition the Supreme Court of BC and if their complaint is upheld the offending Councillor is removed from office and becomes responsible for all legal fees concerned.

This is where it gets really interesting. At Councillor Tilbury’s insistence the item is on the Agenda for meeting on Monday 20 January. There is a staff recommendation to wait until at least February 3rd for a staff report. However the Community Charter requires that any Supreme Court submission must take place with 45 days of a Councillor becoming aware of an apparent conflict. Delaying until February 3rd would extend beyond that period making action impossible.

So Council faces a choice of accepting the staff recommendation and effectively sweeping the whole issue under the carpet or confronting the issue and taking a position on one side or the other and accepting the consequences of that stand.

As Thomas Paine said “These are the times that try mens’ souls”

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