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Olds council conflict of interest dilemma resolved

Is it ethical for town councillors to vote on help for businesses if they own one?
Olds chief administrative officer Michael Merritt was concerned that when dealing with a vote on a business grant program, several councillors could have a conflict, recuse themselves, and there wouldn’t be a quorum. File photo

OLDS — As they pondered whether to approve a grant program to help local businesses recoup some costs from reopening, Olds councillors faced a potential conflict of interest: should they recuse themselves if they or their relatives owned businesses in town?

In the end, they decided they could vote on the matter and approved the program unanimously.

CAO Michael Merritt posed the question during council’s May 25 meeting.

He was concerned that several councillors could have a conflict, recuse themselves, and there wouldn’t be a quorum (enough councillors left in the meeting to conduct debate and a vote on the matter).

About four weeks ago, Merritt asked the province’s Municipal Affairs department for ministerial order enabling all councillors to vote on the issue.

By the time the May 25 council meeting began, he still hadn’t received that order.

             RELATED: Grant program for reopening Olds businesses approved

However, Municipal Affairs officials did tell him that a section of the Municipal Government Act essentially allows all councillors to vote, whether they or a family member has a business licence.

“I think this falls much like the exemption for property taxes,” mayor Michael Muzychka said.

“Every one of us sitting on council is a ratepayer so Municipal Affairs sees that if they made a pecuniary interest that involved that, they would have nobody to sit on council as everybody is directly or indirectly a ratepayer as well.”

Muzychka asked his fellow councillors if any of them felt that they had to recuse themselves from the discussion and vote.

None did.

Doug Collie

About the Author: Doug Collie

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