Concerns about councillors being in a potential conflict of interest in relation to a major water agreement were raised at Monday’s District of Lantzville council meeting.
Lantzville councillors voted to have the district’s legal counsel provide an opinion regarding the status of current council members and potential conflicts in relation to the Lantzville-Nanaimo water agreement.
The motion was brought forth by Coun. John Coulson, who told fellow councillors that he was concerned about a potential conflict of interest on council in relation to the water agreement.
“On the water issue, we are faced with the possibility of a split vote on council and the participation of one individual incorrectly could bring the whole decision into question more so than normal,” he said.
In 2014, Lantzville signed a $1.3-million water-supply agreement with the City of Nanaimo.
Last year, the Lantzville councillors of the day sought a legal opinion, provided by Vancouver-based law firm, Lidstone and Company, which stated that those councillors could participate in discussions and vote on what was then a proposed agreement with Nanaimo.
The makeup of council has changed and a new opinion should be sought out, said Coulson, adding that he has come across documents that raise issues about potential “pecuniary interests” related to the water agreement.
“Since that opinion was provided interpretations of the agreement may have changed, the individual situations of council members has changed,” Coulson said. “I have learned some of the conclusions reached in the original opinion may have been based on hearsay and I have been provided documents to give me concern about possible pecuniary interests related to the supply of water from Nanaimo.”
Following Monday’s meeting, Coulson told the News Bulletin that he raised the issue this week as a result of the newly scheduled Aug. 3 council meeting that will discuss spending $800,000 on a pipe to connect to Nanaimo’s water supply and said he is concerned that there is a member on Lantzville council who is in a conflict, but wouldn’t name any names.
“There is a member of council that residents are questioning are in conflict and there are documents leading to a potential conflict,” Coulson said. “I think in my opinion it is time to have a legal opinion that, whether or not they should be participating.”
During the meeting, Coun. Denise Haime agreed with Coulson and said the current council should seek legal counsel to protect themselves, residents and the district.
“It is common practice that it does come before council members and council members can chose if they would like to get a legal opinion,” she said. “So, speaking to that, I think it is something that we have to consider in order to protect the corporation.”
Coun. Will Geselbracht, however, called the motion a “witch hunt” and said that he depends on the “integrity of every one” on council to speak up if they feel that they are in a conflict of interest situation.
Coun. Bob Colclough along with councillors Haime and Coulson voted in favour of the motion while councillors Swain and Geselbracht voted against. Mayor Haime also voted in favour and Coun.
Dot Neary was absent.