“It’s a small fish bowl we live in.”
And that seems an appropriate place to start in a discussion of local governance, community engagement and conflict of interest.
The two things guaranteed to get you into the most trouble — dogs and children — dropped into the fish bowl over the summer.
Tomorrow, Osoyoos Council will wade in and attempt to sort things out.
The issue is dogs and ballplayers and a coveted piece of property on the community’s west bench.
Originally purposed for a minor league ball diamond but never completed, after some lobbying by dog owners five years ago the property was redrafted as an off-leash dog park.
Now, the ballplayers are asking for the property back.
As one local news outlet suggested, “emotions are expected to run high” tomorrow.
But the drama might be short-lived — and somewhat muted.
The reason is provincial conflict of interest rules as contained within the BC Community Charter.
Specifically, the Charter indicates if a councillor determines he or she cannot participate in a discussion because the member has an interest in the matter that constitutes a conflict of interest, “the member must declare this and state in general terms the reason why the member considers this to be the case.”
The councillor is then required, among other things, to remove him or herself from the discussion.
In the current conversation about where to place a dog park, at least one, and perhaps two, councillors have interests that potentially “constitute a conflict of interest.”
Counc. Carol Youngberg also sits as a director with the Desert Park Exhibition Society, which likely would be negatively affected with a decision to build the minor ball diamond there.
This is because a ball park at Desert Park would not only bisect the greenspace infield but also plant fencing and shale across its center. That would limit the society’s ability to host large-number music events, something Counc. Youngberg is actively encouraging for a local interest.
That last little tidbit suggests two potential conflicts for the councillor — the first as a Desert Park director, the second as a proponent for a business interest wanting to do something at Desert Park.
The second potential conflict involves Counc. Mike Campol.
Critics in the community have suggested Counc. Campol, who is slated to manage a business interest for one of the philanthropic proponents of the ball park, should also be excluded from the discussion.
The thinking, I suppose, is Counc. Campol’s integrity is coloured by a more prevailing interest to appease his employer.
Lost in the conversation is the fact the discussion does not directly involve the business Counc. Campol will be managing. No, it involves the local minor ball society with which his employer is associated.
And that’s where the small fishbowl analogy comes swimming along.
It’s an easy exercise — defining “indirect” — to disqualify from the discussion almost every member of the Osoyoos Council.
Counc. Jim King, for example, is on record as supporting the purchase of a portable stage for placement at Desert Park (to facilitate those large-number music events.) In fact, he is directly quoted by the author of the proposal that such a purchase is a “no-brainer,” adding “Council will support this as it increases usage at Desert Park.”
Is that sufficient to compromise Counc. King’s ability to fairly debate the West Bench issue?
Meanwhile, Counc. CJ Rhodes owns a business that would likely profit with more young families being attracting by increased recreational facilities and moving into the community. These young families, building or renovating homes and properties, would make use of his rental equipment and increase his earning potential.
Does that mean he should be walking out of Council chambers when it comes time to talk about dogs and children?
I’m not sure about Mayor Sue McKortoff, but perhaps she owns a dog, has grandchildren who play minor ball or senior friends who have bent her ear relentlessly in their efforts to maintain the status quo.
The point is, in our little fishbowl, practically everyone is engaged in multiple capacities.
Many of us work, a lot of us volunteer our time and energy and some of us have the resources and desire to do much bigger things for our little town.
Some of our more affluent members invest in local business ventures additional to their primary vocation — and thank heavens they do.
But the latter appears to be the key issue in the current conflict-of-interest commentary.
Should we disqualify anyone who has a relationship with, say a local dentist, just because that local dentist is committed to community building and encourages philanthropic efforts that loosely complement his business interests?
Act on that thinking and our Council will quickly be populated solely by retirees and school teachers.
Well, perhaps not school teachers: what would they have done amid the school closing crisis of 2016?
Still, we have more than enough retirees to fill a five-member council, right? Sure, we do — and many of them are well qualified to lead our community.
But just like a fish bowl is much more attractive with multiple species of aquatic swimmers, so, too, is a council comprised of community members from multiple backgrounds, walks of life and other defining demographics.
Perhaps, rather than taking speargun in hand and hunting councillors who might have an indirect conflict, a better course forward is for us to have a little more faith in the capacity of those we have elected to do the right thing — that is, to heed the provincial conflict of interest legislation and govern themselves.
It is, after all, a small fish bowl within which they debate and argue.
It’s really not that hard to determine who might be improperly polluting the water — and then to promptly do something about it.