Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - OPINION -

The pro­vin­cial om­buds­man who looks into is­sues with the gover­nance of ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties has raised real cause for con­cern. Mary McFadyen took ac­tion in re­gards to three cases of con­flict of in­ter­est, in­volv­ing five coun­cil­lors. All three cases point to a se­ri­ous gap in knowl­edge on an is­sue on which all elected of­fi­cials should be well versed. In one case, her guid­ance on a clearly prob­lem­atic sit­u­a­tion was out­ra­geously dis­re­garded.

The re­port re­veals that one coun­cil­lor in the RM of Beaver River took part in a de­ci­sion to check for gravel on land he leases. Two other coun­cil­lors par­tic­i­pated in de­ci­sions re­gard­ing land owned by close rel­a­tives. None of these peo­ple ap­par­ently saw this as a con­flict and they did noth­ing to re­move them­selves from the com­pro­mis­ing sit­u­a­tion.

As re­ported by Post­media on Tues­day, the om­buds­man called for con­flict of in­ter­est train­ing and rec­om­mended pass­ing a by­law to adopt im­proved pro­ce­dures, but the RM did not ac­cept that be­cause coun­cil mem­bers “felt they had done noth­ing wrong.” This was not an oner­ous re­quest on the part of the om­buds­man, and its re­jec­tion should raise se­ri­ous con­cerns for res­i­dents of the RM of Beaver River.

In the RM of Orkney, a coun­cil mem­ber — who is also the water­works op­er­a­tor — voted on his own ap­point­ment to the job. McFadyen pointed out this ob­vi­ous con­flict, and the RM agreed to hold the vote again with­out the op­er­a­tor’s par­tic­i­pa­tion. Again, this is a mild con­se­quence for a trou­bling er­ror in judg­ment.

The fi­nal sit­u­a­tion, in the RM of Grayson, in­volved a coun­cil­lor who should have re­moved him­self from dis­cus­sions re­gard­ing a pro­posed sub­di­vi­sion. He re­signed, and as a re­sult the om­buds­man took no ac­tion.

This, of course, is far from the first time we have seen such a prob­lem in a ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­ity. Tim Probe, who is cur­rently on leave from his role as coun­cil­lor in the RM of Sher­wood, is set to stand trial on two charges stem­ming from an al­leged Fe­bru­ary 2016 in­ci­dent; he was found to have been in­volved in a con­flict of in­ter­est by the om­buds­man.

The lat­est in­ci­dents are proof that not all ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties have learned from the woes of the RM of Sher­wood. And it is dif­fi­cult to know the true ex­tent of this lack of ed­u­ca­tion on con­flict of in­ter­est. Al­most 300 ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal coun­cils op­er­ate in Saskatchewan; 185 of them rep­re­sent fewer than 500 peo­ple. Track­ing is­sues is a huge task with few peo­ple re­ally watch­ing the in­ner work­ings of these elected of­fi­cials.

Ru­ral mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties deal with tens of mil­lions of pro­vin­cial tax dol­lars. The find­ings of the om­buds­man should alert the gov­ern­ment and tax­pay­ers that more ac­count­abil­ity is re­quired.

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