Gander councillor addresses conflict of interest allegations
The Town of Gander has no comment on conflict of interest allegations surrounding Councillor Wayne Lorenzen or the council matter that sparked the claim.
On Nov. 25, 2015, Lorenzen voted in favor of the town entering the Nav Canada Tax Agreement. He was an employee of Nav Canada at the time.
A resident, who Lorenzen will not name, noted this fact and complained to the town approximately two weeks ago.
After a lost court case involving the assessment of special purpose properties, the town was told it had to refund Nav Canada $537,000 in taxes for the period 2013-2015.
As a way of resolving the issue, Nav Canada proposed that the town implement landing fees instead of charging taxes on the assessed value of the property.
According to the minutes of Nov. 25, 2015 meeting, “the town would receive $8 per itinerant flight landing at Gander International Airport. This would equate to essentially the same level of revenue we would receive now if the revised assessment stays as is. There will be an escalator clause in the agreement whereby the $8 will be changed each year by the same percentage as the commercial property tax changes.”
By entering into the agreement, Nav Canada would drop its appeal in which it claimed its property was worth approximately half of the revised assessment.
All seven councillors attended the meeting and voted unanimously in favour of the agreement.
At the time, Lorenzen didn’t think he was in a conflict of interest position.
“Conflict for us meant I stood to receive a monetary benefit for the decision I made on council,” he explained. “I was not a manager, I was a front-line employee at the time, protected by collective agreement. There was no monetary gain.”
Standing to gain no monetary benefit when voting is a requirement of the Newfoundland and Labrador Municipalities Act.
However, the act also states that a councillor cannot vote on or speak to matters if “The councillor is an officer, employee or agent of an incorporated or unincorporated company, or other association of persons, that has a monetary interest in the matter.”
Not having anything to gain personally, that aspect of conflict of interest wasn’t noticed by Lorenzen, the rest of council or the administration.
“If I felt I would have been in conflict, based on monetary benefit, I would have excused myself,” he said. “We never made an employee connection…”
He said sole responsibility for that slip-up rests with him.
“I feel very bad for the position that my mistake has put the Town of Gander in, on all levels,” he said. “I thought I was supporting a great new policy for the Town of Gander that benefited everybody.”
Now, while Lorenzen respects a resident’s rights to hold council accountable, he said he feels somewhat targeted by the individual.
He contends the man has been disgruntled ever since council expropriated land belonging to the man last year.
He also said he and the man had an altercation at work years prior.
Lorenzen will plead his case at a council hearing March 21 and a decision will be made at the March 22 council meeting.
If Lorenzen is found to have been in a conflict of interest, he will have to vacate his seat and won’t be able to run in a municipal election for two years.
If that happens, he says, “I’ll have the opportunity to appeal this and I most likely will.” His aim would be to be given a reduced penalty that would allow him to run in September’s election.
Meanwhile, he said he’s been getting support in the community.
“The response has been overwhelming,” he said. “It’s amazing, actually.”
Following conflict of interest allegations, Gander Councillor Wayne Lorenzen will go before council on March 21 to plead his case.