The March 5, 2012, FPCOW Meeting

Ron Bolin: March 5, 2012

The first FPCOW meeting to be held at the VICC took place this afternoon.  The Commission Reports on Public Art selection; Travel Assistance Grant Changes, and the Minutes of the Parks. Recreation and Culture Committee were accepted as presented.

The Conflict of Interest policy as recommended by Staff was accepted after some discussion and with a strenuous, and I thought, well reasoned objection from Councillor Anderson.  Councillor Anderson had made calls to Councillors in other jurisdictions to determine their conflict of interest policy, but only found one.  All others did not have such a policy, leaving Councillors to determine such matters for themselves.   He asked for an extension of a week to consider his position and his findings, but was defeated in this request, though joined by Councillors Pattje and McKay.  In the end Councillor Anderson’s was the only vote against staff’s recommendation to offer each Councillor in each year up to $3000 in automatic legal opinion costs regarding the possibility of conflict of interest.  The recommendation noted that more money could be provided for such opinions at Council’s discretion.

Council’s interest in this matter became much clearer during question period when Mr. Kenning pointed out that while a conflict of interest question might be found in a court of law, if the offending Councillor had a legal opinion (not a legal decision, but an opinion for a lawyer), even if he or she were to be found guilty, that they would not lose their seat on Council.  In other words, at the extreme, find a lawyer who will give you an opinion that you were not in conflict on an issue, and you save your seat, even if the matter were to have consequences for the City.  It is, and was admitted that, this is an area where the legislation is very slippery and the law is changing rapidly.  In this environment it may not be difficult to get an opinion that no conflict existed.

In the matter of Council Expenses on Attendance at out-of-town meetings, Council found that they should be able to attend such meetings without prior approval from Council.  Will there be a rush to the fund before the fund is gone?  It remains to be seen.

Council approved the award of the contract to implement the SAP budget module to the lowest bidder, even though this bid was much higher than the original estimate and the spread of bids received seemed to reflect very different ideas of the complexity of the project.  Councillors Anderson and Kipp voted against the expenditure.  I found it exceedingly strange that, though we are dealing in this matter with the implementation of computer software, there was no opinion given from the City’s Information Technology Department, nor did Council ask any questions of the City’s computer experts.  Something smells rather peculiar in this matter.

Mr. Sims, Manager of Water Resources gave some preliminary findings from the Water Audit which is now taking place and should be completed in this summer.  Finding showed that water use per capita for residential users is well below either BC or Canadian levels.  A question from Councillor Pattje asked whether this would affect the estimates of the time frame in which a new water supply would be needed and the response was that it probably would not, but the figures used in the one study need to be examined in the light of the other, i.e. use level related to population growth related to the need to spend up to $75 million for a new dam.  This one bears watching.  The engineering questions should not be overwhelmed by political considerations.

Councillor McKay gave a Notice of Motion regarding the acquisition of land in the West Linley Valley which he intends to make at the next Council meeting.

During Question period it was requested that the difference between a Notice of Motion and the sudden mid meeting introduction of a motion which is then passed at that same meeting be explained.  Council is apparently free to do what they wish and providing a Notice of Motion to give time for both Council and the public to consider the matter is simply a courtesy.

The City’s official population was requested from among the contenders: The Canadian Census; BC estimates, RDN estimates, and VIHA estimates.  While I would contend that the Census, at least during the year in which it is held, should provide the basis for population and reset the bar for future estimates as it is an actual head count with defined procedures and takes place with considerable care, Staff and Council apparently wish to rely on estimates for which a Census is essentially irrelevant and provide substantially greater population figures.  If it is not to be used perhaps the City should inform Statistics Canada that their work is inadequate and not needed and that the expense should be saved as our estimates are better.

It was requested, given the available video facilities in the Shaw Auditorium where it was determined at the last Council meeting that FPCOW meetings would be held until the availability of the Board Room in the New City Hall Annex, that these meetings be recorded, if not by or for Shaw, for the citizens of Nanaimo and be available on line at the City’s web site.  A great deal of the City’s business is done in FPCOW meetings.  Council’s action in this regard is awaited.

The meeting ended with a call for an in-camera meeting which had not been documented in the agenda.