RM LEADERS NEED TRAINING
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.