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Carbonear councillors exercise caution in dealing with conflict of interest question

Former mayor of Carbonear Frank Butt.
Carbonear Mayor Frank Butt. - SaltWire Network

Debates centres on application for interior repairs at local Legion building; mayor a member of group


Council members are taking a cautious approach in dealing with the prospect of conflict of interest, as it pertains to Carbonear's mayor.

At issue is whether the mayor was in conflict on a motion concerning the local Royal Canadian Legion building.

Conflict of interest has created headaches in the past. In December 2017, council members decided Mayor Frank Butt was in conflict on a motion voted on at a meeting a few years earlier, due to his business' proximity to the subject property. Butt went on to successfully challenge council's decision in Newfoundland and Labrador Supreme Court last year and was subsequently reinstated as mayor. The matter cost the town tens of thousands of dollars.

At their Tuesday, May 28 meeting, councillors were preparing to vote on development applications, including one for interior repairs at the Royal Canadian Legion building. Mayor Frank Butt is a member of the Legion and asked if he would be considered in conflict.

CAO Cynthia Davis briefly left council chambers to consult the Municipalities Act. From it, she cited a section that states a councillor would be in conflict  if they are "an officer, employee or agent of an incorporated or unincorporated company, or other association of persons, that has a monetary interest in the matter."

Davis noted where the application involved renovations, there would be a monetary interest at play.

"So I guess as a member, would you consider (the mayor) an officer or an agent of the Royal Canadian Legion," she said.

Coun. David Kennedy did not believe so, and introduced a motion declaring the mayor was not in conflict on the application before council.

Coun. Danielle Doyle noted the situation could be looked at similarly to one in Gander a couple of years ago, where a councillor voted on a motion concerning his place of employment. He was subsequently found to be in conflict after a resident complained to the town and he was forced to vacate his seat.

Kennedy disagreed. In the matter cited by Doyle, the Town of Gander had agreed to receive landing fees in order for Nav Canada (the councillor's employer) to drop an appeal of an earlier court decision.

"We're not giving them anything," Kennedy said.

Coun. Ray Noel suggested it would be best to proceed with caution on these sorts of matters.

"It's going to pass – nobody here wants to see the Legion not get done what they're looking for," he said. "Sometimes we put each other in these situations where we're sort of trying to turn what's black and white into grey, and nobody wins from it. If it's there that you're an agent or whatever, every time there's a discussion of that, any association that I'm involved with, I'll just say, 'I'm going to save you the trouble and I'm going to walk out the door' ... Is he an agent? I think he is."

The mayor continued to chair the meeting as councillors debated and voted on Kennedy's motion, which was defeated by a 5-1 vote, with Butt abstaining. He briefly left council chambers while his colleagues approved the development application.

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