Town plan still in air

A last minute intervention by the Minister of Municipal Affairs may have further clouded the situation regarding alleged conflicts of interest involving at least two councillors.
According to Mayor Sébastien Després, members of council received the letter from Keith Hutchings at 4:41 p.m. Tuesday, June 9, less than three hours before this month’s regular public meeting of council.
Després tried to forge ahead anyway with a vote to decide one of the allegations – whether husband and wife councillors Ralph Carey and Dena Wiseman broke conflict of interest rules by discussing snow clearing on Pond Path, a private lane leading to property they own – but couldn’t force the rest of council to go along with him.
Després argued the minister’s letter referred only to the other allegation – namely that Carey and Wiseman were in a conflict of interest when they voted on the proposed new Town Plan, which rezones their land off Pond Path to allow for housing. But councillors Ken Brinston and René Estrada disagreed with the mayor. They countered that Hutchings’ letter referred to both allegations. Brinston pointed out Hutchings has asked to meet with the council on June 15 and moved that the vote on the snow clearing allegation be deferred.
“I think it would be a kick in the face to the minister if we went ahead and addressed this situation tonight,” Brinston argued.
Després insisted the minister’s letter was restricted to the Town Plan. “I will advise council that we have been advised six times by Municipal Affairs to make a decision on the allegations of conflict of interest,” he said. “So I see no reason to defer that one.”
Brinton, Estrada and councillor Albert Murphy were not persuaded. After further argument between them and the mayor, Carey and Wiseman left the chamber so council could vote on Brinston’s motion to defer the matter. It passed 3-2 with Després and councillor Kevin Smart voting against it.
In his letter to council, Hutchings said he has received “significant representation” on the alleged conflicts of interest. “I am advised that you have now reached a decision as a council on whether a number of councillors were in conflict during prior discussions and motions associated with the Town Plan and have decided they were not in conflict at that time,” he said. “I understand that this decision was reached in the context of prior discussions and motions that were focused on newer amendments proposed by the current Council, versus discussions on the entirety of the Town Plan.”
The minister’s letter skirts the contention of councillor Murphy that the private vote which cleared Carey and Wiseman was done incorrectly and also ignores his subsequent demand that the two councillors explain their actions in a ‘Friendly Hearing’ as spelled out in the Municipalities Act. It also ignores the fact that the private decision to clear the councillors has not been moved and adopted in a public meeting as required by the Act. And by agreeing to clear Wiseman and Carey on the basis that they voted only on amendments to the Town Plan instead of the document in its entirety, Hutchings appears to be ignoring a December 9, 2014 vote of council in which Carey made the motion to submit the 10 year plan, in its entirety, to the province for registration. The motion passed with Wiseman among the councillors who voted for it. 
“My intent is to now ensure that no confusion remains regarding the steps Council must now take if you wish to have the proposed town plan considered for registration,” Hutchings wrote.
The minister reminded council of “procedural errors” it made prior to submitting the Town Plan the first time and said those must be corrected before it submits it again. He also warned council that this time it must make sure no councillors are in a conflict of interest. He added that if council wants to amend the Town Plan - as Després, Wiseman, Carey and Smart opted to do before submitting it the first time - it may have to hold another public hearing.
“Given the length of time that work on the new Town Plan has taken and the numerous inquiries from residents, it is incumbent on council to move expeditiously,” Hutchings wrote. “As such, I ask that council make your determination on whether any members of council are in conflict with respect to a new vote regarding the entire Town Plan by June 21, 2015. Further, I ask that Council advise the Department at that time of whether you intend to hold a further or new public hearing, and if so the date for the hearing. In the absence of a further public hearing I ask that Council’s vote regarding whether to approve the plan to submit to the Department for registration occur by July 15, 2015. I ask for an expeditious and appropriate resolution to this issue, without which I will have no choice but to consider my authorities as Minister to address the matter.”
The latest wrinkle follows a raucous special meeting of council held May 26 in which Mayor Després tried to get council to ratify publicly the vote he said council had previously made in private that Carey and Wiseman were not in a conflict of interest when they voted on the Town Plan.
However, that voted had to be postponed because two councillors were absent and with Carey and Wiseman not allowed to vote on a matter pertaining to them, council lacked quorum. Després ordered another public meeting to be held two nights later, but again not enough councillors could attend to make quorum.
Meanwhile, the meeting with council that the minister has requested to go over the timelines for adopting and submitting the Town Plan is set for Confederation Building this evening.

Posted on June 24, 2015 .