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Banff budget process sees multiple conflicts of interest declarations by councillors

BANFF – Municipal politicians must be careful about conflicts of interest.
Banff Council 2017_21

BANFF – Municipal politicians must be careful about conflicts of interest.

During Banff’s budget discussions, Councillor Corrie DiManno declared a conflict nine times on transit related discussions, projects and programs because she is an employee of Bow Valley Regional Transit Services Commission (BVRTSC).

DiManno, who campaigned in the 2017 election with transit as a major part of her platform, said she’s doing her best to follow the letter and spirit of the Municipal Government Act.

“I am disappointed that my voice on transit is no longer at the council table,” she said.

“But it is personally rewarding being able to help Roam be the best it can through my role with communications and marketing.”

DiManno took a job as marketing and communications coordinator with the transit commission in February 2018, a few months after she was voted in as a councillor for a second term.

“The advice I was originally given by those around me was that I would be able to participate in discussions if it didn’t have to do with marketing and communications in particular, or my own salary at the commission,” she said.

“That was the information I was using to make my decision about whether or not to take the job.  Once in real life I started applying that, it became very clear that anything related to transit, capital or operating, I should just be declaring a conflict on.”

Alberta’s MGA indicates a conflict as something that could monetarily affect the councillor, or immediate family, or a business which employs the elected official, or in which they have an interest.

First, the councillor must disclose the personal interest before the matter is discussed.  Second, the councillor must leave the room until the discussion and voting on the matter is over.

The goal is to make sure the interested councillor does not discuss or influence the mayor and other councillors in any way, and does not vote on the matter.

Although councillors must make their own determination about conflicts of interest, they may seek the advice of the chief administrative officer about a potential conflict before the matter comes to council.

Coun. Peter Poole also declared conflicts during budget talks when discussions turned to the Bear Street woonerf and a plan to realign the Wolf and Caribou streets intersection and beautify the area. He has a financial interest in properties there.

Coun. Ted Christensen, who owns a snow removal business, did not declare a conflict during discussion about whether or not to expand snow removal on sidewalks in Banff.

He said the scope of his business has downsized considerably, noting he shovels snow primarily for a couple of churches in town, though he acknowledges there may be a perceived conflict by some.

“At one time it may have been a conflict, but I shovel snow on a couple of areas where the Banff crews shovel and I work more or less in conjunction with them,” he said.

“If I get there first and the Town hasn’t, I ensure a safe sidewalk. If the Town comes along and they do it, that’s fine too,” he added.

“Yes, I get money for it and I can understand if there was someone else who had a concern, I would certainly consider it at greater depth.”

During talks on the municipality’s human resources department, Coun. Christensen raised the issue of employee benefits being changed to allow people over 70 to have them.

Other then Christensen in his role as councillor, administration said there were no municipal employees over 70. He said he didn’t feel the need to declare a conflict.

“When I turned 71 … my medical benefits I was out of the program, but I get paid what the Town would have contributed before,” he said.

“I am responsible for purchasing my own plan, but it pales in comparison to what the group benefits provide.”

Robert Earl, Banff’s town manager, said it’s up to an individual councillor to decide whether or not to declare a conflict.

With respect to the discussion and debate on snow clearing and employee benefits, Earl said a councillor had never asked him about conflicts over those issues.

“At the end of the day, it’s up to that councillor to look at the facts of the situation and try to determine if they’re in conflict,” he said.

Previous to service review and budget discussions kicking off at the end of November, DiManno had declared a conflict other transit items, including the construction of a transit bus garage and transit reserve.

During budget, she declared a conflict when it came to decision-making on a trial for shuttle buses to and from the Liricon train station lot, increased transit frequency on Route 2, potential upgrades of two buses to biodiesel, bus service between Calgary and Banff among others, ski bus shelters, fare-free trails days, Central Park pedestrian crossing, and a portable hydraulic lift for buses.

As she headed into her first service review and budget since taking the job, she said she did not realize how far-reaching transit reaches throughout the municipality’s operations – from planning and engineering to communications.

“Transit is near and dear to my heart. It’s a huge passion of mine … since I’ve taken the job and since I’ve been managing it in real time, transit has now become a trigger word,” she said.

“When I hear it come up in deliberations, I know that’s my cue to exit.”