Members of council will not be barred from bidding on Township work.
Council defeated Kim Richter’s motion 6-3 on Nov. 6, which sought to pass formal legislation that would disallow sitting members of council to bid on Township work or to use their businesses to bid on Township work for the duration of their tenure on council.
Richter brought forward the motion after the Township hired Coun. Angie Quaale’s business to cater a farm tour in September. The Township’s legal team found no fault with the matter, however Richter believes it was a conflict of interest.
“In many respects, it’s disappointing that we have to put something like this in writing. But it is clearly an oversight in our policy manual,” Richter said.
“I think that we all have to have a common understanding of what is appropriate behaviour and what is not appropriate behaviour.”
However, Quaale called the motion is a form of bullying, and that the Community Charter, which governs all municipalities in B.C., already adequately covers conflict of interest issues. She said she is being targeted “overtly” and that she is “being bullied and threatened by another member of council.”
“I look at this job as community service. We’re talking about a lunch that was catered by my business for $1,200 — that’s what this has evolved from,” Quaale said.
“And truthfully, it’s exhausting to have to deal with this over and over again. This job will not continue to attract good people to want to sit in these chairs as long as people feel like they can’t run their own business and do something outside of their seat in local government.”
Richter said the issue isn’t how much money the contract was worth, but the principle behind it.
“What happens if it’s, like, $15,000 next time, or $150,000, or $15 million? Like, what happens when we get a council of people who are only sitting on this council in order to further the ends of their businesses? Is that the right kind of council for a community?” she asked.
“We swear an oath of office … that says we are not going to take a direct or indirect pecuniary benefit. If our businesses are getting money from Township coffers, I think that’s a direct pecuniary benefit. And we need just to make sure that we’ve drawn the line, what happened happened, it’s over, it’s done, but let’s make sure now that it never happens again, and that’s the purpose of this motion.”
Coun. Blair Whitmarsh, too, noted that Section 107 of the Community Charter already covers the issue in detail.
“I don’t think that we, as the Township of Langley, need to develop our own standards that somehow we believe are higher or better than (what) the rest of the province falls under,” he said.
“The community charter is very clear and it allows people who live in a community to be able to function as a councillor and still operate their businesses.”
Mayor Jack Froese said it was “very disappointing” that the motion was on the table. He read Section 107 out loud to council to provide context.
“There’s many communities where members of the community do business with the municipality. I can’t say for sure if George Preston ever sold a vehicle to the Township of Langley, but if he did, he would have followed Section 107 of the Community Charter, or similar legislation that existed at the time. It’s something that happens, but there’s clear guidelines to make sure it’s transparent.”
Coun. David Davis, who voted in favour of the motion along with Richter and Coun. Petrina Arnason, said that the discussion was unnecessary as councillors should know not to mix their businesses with the municipality.
“I think that we, as elected council members … shouldn’t be going into business with the Township with a 10-foot pole,” he said.
“There’s another issue here … what about the other people who have put bids in to do business with the (Township)? All of a sudden, if they’re running up against David Davis, they’re going to say, ‘Oh, it’s a done deal.’ Common sense, and I know I’m going to get into heck for this, but common sense says we should stay right away from that.”
Quaale added that in the particular case of the catering contract, she was one of the few businesses that could meet the Township’s requirements to source the food locally.
“The reason that I bid on this process is because I’m really proud of what goes on here in Langley. I’m really proud of our farmers and the food producers that we have locally. And I have really good longstanding relationships with those providers,” she said.
“And the reason my bid was lower than every one else’s is because I wanted to do this to show the community, not for a profit centre.”
Furthermore, Quaale said that the conflict “is just one piece of what the community is seeing” and that this type of behaviour has been going on behind the scene since before she was elected.
“Truthfully, my point in all of this is who’s going to be attracted to sit in this seat when they see how we are treated by other members of council and by the public? The whole concept of public discourse has gotten so far off the rails.”
Richter countered by saying that council should watch the tapes of their meetings to “see who is harassing who.” She also said that the legal opinion on the catering matter offers “a very narrow description” and that there are two other sections of the Community Charter that were not referenced: Section 102 on restriction on inside influence and Section 103 on restrictions on outside influence.
“I think you have to draw the line in the sand early, it has to be firm and it has to be clear,” she said. “And to me, the line is, if you have put your name forward and been fortunate enough to be elected, then your obligation is to every member of this community, not just to your business.”
At the end of the meeting, Coun. Charlie Fox — who said residents have also questioned him about social media interactions related to the catering contract — put forward a notice of motion requesting a legal opinion as to whether the Township’s respectful workplace policy has been violated. If it has, he would also like to know what any options for recourse may be.