By Kirk Starratt
A Kings County councillor isn’t ready to drop a conflict of interest allegation.
In May, Coun. Pauline Raven asked council to request an inquiry through the attorney general to determine whether Coun. Bob Best was in contravention of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act. The motion was defeated.
Raven alleges Best was in a conflict of interest when he voted in favour of funding for the Kings Mutual Century Centre during county council’s budget deliberations this past spring. Best is the manager of the centre’s Apple Dome Arena.
Best maintains he has no conflict and he has a legal opinion supporting his position.
Raven wrote to provincial Justice Minster Ross Landry asking him to exercise his authority to initiate a Supreme Court application.
Landry’s July 24 reply, obtained by the Kings County Advertiser, said the province would not be making an application.
“At this time, I am not prepared to exercise my discretion under Section 9 of the Act. Nonetheless, I do note that it is also open for any elector to make an application for determination of a conflict under Section 9 of the Act,” Landry wrote.
The idea of an individual pursuing the matter is “a lot to expect of an individual,” Raven said.
“It certainly is an indication that if you want to challenge something, it’s best to have deep pockets.”
Raven said she is disappointed Landry did not provide a reason for his decision.
“He did suggest the option of an individual elector bringing an application for an inquiry, but I don’t understand why he thinks that responsibility rests more with an individual than with him, especially at a time when trust in public officials seems at an all point low,” Raven said.
Landry could not be reached for comment before press time.
Best sat out discussions around Kings Mutual Century Centre funding during budget deliberations at an April 8 meeting. During the budget process, council agreed to pay out in full the municipality’s $275,000 to commitment to phase one of centre. This commitment was to have been paid out over the next several years, but the centre made a request for immediate payment.
A motion to promise $55,000 per year over an eight-year period for phase two funding was defeated.
At a meeting one week later, the phase two funding matter was reintroduced.
Best opted to participate in the debate at that meeting - declaring he was not in a conflict of interest. A motion passed, with a vote of eight to three, to fund phase two: $30,000 for the 2013-2014 year and $55,000 a year for the following seven years.
A legal opinion prepared by local lawyer David Daniels for Raven alleges that Best had an indirect pecuniary interest in funding for the centre.
This opinion has not been proven in a court of law.
“This interest was neither so remote nor insignificant that a person would conclude that it likely could not reasonably influence Councillor Best,” Daniels wrote.
Daniels writes that, in his opinion, Best was obligated to disclose his interest, withdraw from the council table and not vote on the motion when the matter of centre funding came before council at the April 15 meeting.
Raven included Daniels’ document in her letter to Landry.
Councillor responds to conflict allegation
Coun. Bob Best said he is paid to manage the arena portion of the KMCC complex, but all other involvement, including fundraising, has been done solely on a volunteer basis.
“I’m glad the minister has common sense,” Best said Aug. 28, when asked to comment on the situation.
Best said he sought legal advice between the April 8 and 15 meetings.
“I wanted to make sure,” he said “I thought I did the right thing. I thought there might be a conflict.”
Best said he would not provide a copy of the legal opinion to the Advertiser.
Municipal Conflict of Interest Act states:
The attorney general or an elector may apply to a judge of the Trial Division of the Supreme Court or a county court for a determination of whether a member has contravened the provisions of the act. An application must be made within 60 days after the fact comes to the attention of the applicant that the member may have contravened the act. No application may be made pursuant to this section more than 10 years after the date of the alleged contravention.