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COMMENTARY · 22nd March 2012
Walter McFarlane
During the Council Meeting on Monday, March 19th, we asked if Councillor Mary Murphy was in a conflict of interest on her motion to move the Council Meetings to Kitimat Valley Institute where she works as a safety instructor.

When she made the motion, she stated anywhere she could recommend in the community, referring to Northwest Community Collage and the First Nations, she would be in Conflict of Interest as she teaches all over the place.

Conflict of Interest arises when one of the City Councillors has pecuniary interest relating to an item on the floor. Pecuniary interest means having anything to do with achieving any type of financial benefit from the item being discussed.

For example, when Rio Tinto Alcan comes up in the meeting, Councillor Mario Feldhoff has to leave the room because he works for them. Similarly, he leaves the room when motions and presentations relating to Mount Elizabeth Theatre where his wife, Brenda Feldhoff, works.

Discussions over when an elected official is in conflict come up quite often. While Rio Tinto Alcan is the only class four business in town, Councillor Mario Feldhoff is in conflict over tax apportionment. However, if there was another class four, he stated he would not be in conflict.

In Terrace, during the Shames Mountain Debate, one Councillor was told he was in conflict after he did a media interview where he stated many people shop at his business because of the mountain. He was asked to leave the debate, which he did begrudgingly, and later received a court ruling stating he was not in Conflict of Interest.

Finally, at one Council Meeting in 2011, former Councillor Bob Corless asked Council if he was in conflict as he was Vice President of the Royal Canadian Legion Branch in Kitimat when the motion related to the Cenotaph. He was told he was so he left the meeting.

Councillors have been told it is better to declare conflict on the side of caution. As a Councillor, Murphy works for the community. As in instructor, Murphy works for KVI as well. Because it would cost money to rent the District of Kitimat Room at the College, this could be seen as her using her influence as a City Councillor to bring money into the business where she works.

The Community Charter for British Columbia provides restrictions for Conflict of Interest in section 101. The Council member must not remain in attendance at any part of a meeting where they are in conflict, participate in any discussion of the matter, vote on a question in respect to the matter or attempt influence the decision before, during or after a meeting.

There are other options. She could have passed her motion to another City Councillor when she declared Conflict of Interest. She could have withdrawn the motion and got a legal opinion to determine if she was in conflict.

However, she made the motion, discussed it, voted on the tabling motion and justified all of it by saying it was all right because she is an instructor at other locations and would have been in conflict in those areas as well.

Why is this such a big deal? Section 101 ends in the following statement: “A person who contravenes this section is disqualified from holding an office described in, and for the period established by, section 110 (2), unless the contravention was done inadvertently or because of an error in judgment made in good faith.”

In this case Murphy was aware of the potential conflict so it was not ‘inadvertent’. It was certainly an error in judgment, therefore the only remaining question is was it done in good faith or bad. As she was well aware of the question of conflict by bringing it up herself when discussing the motion one can only assume it continued in bad faith; fully aware of the conflict yet proceeding regardless.

This brings a high degree of shame on the entire Provincial Municipal Governance process. She must resign. And if she doesn’t she must be removed.
Comment by mary on 7th April 2012
DOK provided very good one month training to all the councilors. One training session was conflict training, the councilors also received additional conflict training in terrace, after your article appeared, and I received additional conflict training/clarifications to clear up any confusion drawn by your request at that council meeting. And clearly believe I am not in conflict. There is no financial, fiscal, economical, monetary or profitable gain to me or my family. There is a room sponsored by DOK for its use unlike the rest of the public the cost would be minimal. The motion was placed to address citizens concerns in good faith.
It's Murphy's Mistake
Comment by Walter McFarlane on 29th March 2012
Mary Murphy made the mistake of staying in the discussion when she is in conflict of interest. She was well aware of her conflict and as a city Councillor, she is well aware of the penalties associated with said mistake.

On December 5th, Murphy swore an oath to carry out the duties of their office without influence in their conduct and not vote on any matter involving their direct or indirect pecuniary interests.

Murphy works as a safety instructor at the College and at Kitimat Valley Institute. If she is a volunteer... then there is no problem...

However, if she is paid to work at KVI, then there is a pecuniary interest and she has violated one of the things which she swore she would not do.

However, we have been informed it is not up to the Council or the media to question whether she is in Conflict of Interest. It is up to the public.

The molehill here is for an elected official voting to take taxpayer money and give it to their employer. It is a misuse of taxpayer money and it's one of the few mistakes which can cost a City Councillor a seat at the table.
A little over the top
Comment by Aaron von Schleinitz on 28th March 2012
I think your your making a mountain out of a mole hill here. Asking Mary to resign for suggesting using a room? Seems to me to be just a harmless suggestion.

Besides, everyone knows it's tradition in Kitimat to ask for at least three resignations at a time and to do it in the middle of a meeting.