Conflict of interest questions dog mayor as council discusses West Victoria Street

Mayor cautioned on conflict

Kamloops Mayor Reid Hamer-Jackson received a strong warning Tuesday from a city councillor about the potential for conflict of interest as council discussed the social issues plaguing West Victoria Street.

Hamer-Jackson, who owns a business on the street, put forward a motion asking city staff to look into a mini storage facility at 48 West Victoria St., including a possible relocation of the services.

Several West Victoria Street business owners and Howie Reimer of the Kamloops Central Business Improvement Association attended Tuesday’s meeting to speak in favour of the motion, calling for solutions to ongoing street disruption, vandalism and crime in the area.

Representatives from The Mustard Seed Kamloops and the Kamloops Aboriginal Friendship Society, who offer services for vulnerable people on the city-owned mini-storage facility, told council they hoped any review would be open-minded to other outcomes, like expanding services or allowing the facility to stay where it is.

During discussion of the motion, Coun. Nancy Bepple suggesting an amendment — to have a council committee work with staff to review services along the entirety of West Victoria Street. Hamer-Jackson was then advised by Maria Mazzotta, the city's corporate officer, that he could be in a perceived conflict of interest if he stayed at the table.

“It’s your decision whether or not to remain in the room — I’m just cautioning you as to the risk,” Mazzotta said.

According to the Community Charter, conflicts of interest must be disclosed if a council member has direct or indirect financial interests in the matter at hand, or if there is “another interest in the matter that constitutes a conflict of interest.”

At first, Hamer-Jackson chose to remain in council chambers, saying he didn’t believe he would benefit financially from the matter. As discussion continued, Coun. Katie Neustaeter asked Hamer-Jackson to clarify his history along West Victoria Street.

“I've heard you reference before that you were the voice for those particular businesses along that strip, could you speak a little bit about the impacts to your business?” Neustaeter asked.

“Maybe you could expound a little bit about the impacts that you have felt as things have changed on West Victoria?”

“Well they’ve impacted quite a bit, but I don’t think you’d be in conflict just to have a safe place to open a business,” Hamer-Jackson replied.

Neustaeter said under the Community Charter, if 10 or more members of the electorate believe a mayor or council member is in conflict of interest, they can apply to B.C. Supreme Court to have the council member disqualified from office.

“This crosses into serious ethical territory for me and my ability to support this is severely hindered by this clear conflict that is taking place — almost textbook,” Neustaeter said.

"I cannot support unethical behaviour. And if I want you to be successful in your role — which I most certainly do, as I've repeatedly articulated — that's also of critical importance. We cannot let that go by.”

After some discussion, Hamer-Jackson decided to leave the room. Coun. Dale Bass was left to chair the meeting.

Bass said she appreciated Neustaeter’s comments, adding she wasn’t sure Hamer-Jackson realized any changes to West Victoria Street would impact the value of the property he owns.

“I'm not a lawyer as well, but that was the first thing that came to me is he could reopen his business, he could sell his land, and everything will be impacted by that,” Bass said.

Coun. Mike O’Reilly said he wanted to see the motion be focused, as was originally proposed, on reviewing 48 West Victoria St. — a city-owned facility which the city can control.

O’Reilly added he would support a motion requesting a report, but amended to remove the portion discussing possible relocation of the facility.

Coun. Katie Neustaeter said she believed the matter should be explored at a council committee level.

Neustaeter, who told a business owner earlier in the meeting that council as a whole was determined to find solutions to street issues, added all council members want the same thing.

“I know that this is going to look like, in a media scrum situation, like this is a council divided. It is not,” Neustaeter said.

“This is a council — including the mayor — that is saying the same thing about our community. We want the same thing for our community. And we protect one another and we protect our community, and all of the stakeholders in the situation by operating above board, and that is all. But we all want the same thing, which makes a solution possible.”

Coun. Kelly Hall put forward another amendment — to have staff review the mini-storage facility, with the review to be forwarded to a council committee who could work on further recommendations for council.

This amendment to the motion was approved 8-0, with Hamer-Jackson not present for the vote.

Hamer-Jackson said he was previously told by CAO David Trawin that because his business was further than 100 metres away from 48 West Victoria St., a conflict of interest would be avoided.

Mazzotta said she meant no disrespect to Trawin, who had applied a rule typically used in a public hearing context regarding properties, but told Hamer-Jackson “each conflict of interest case is unique.”

“I cannot guarantee which way a court would land on this," she said.

"So again, it is for you to decide your level of comfort with the risk."

After the council meeting, Hamer-Jackson told reporters he was going to get legal advice on conflict of interest and the 100-metre guideline.

He said if he were to provide such a warning to a teammate of his, it would have been brought up before a public meeting.

“We're all on the same team, so I just found it a little confusing," the mayor said.

"I could see that some people had well documented on how to get somebody, what do you call it, expelled from office."

When asked how he felt about the amended motion being passed, Hamer-Jackson smiled.

“I think it’s a good day,” he said.

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