By Nikki Jamieson
Sunny South News
Members of Coaldale town council disagree with conflict of interest allegations and criticism against a fellow member of council. Citizens for a Better Coaldale has raised concerns over recent weeks over coun. Briane Simpson’s involvement with the Civic Square project. Simpson had recused herself from in-camera discussions about Civic Square this year during the Feb. 10, Feb. 24, March 23, June 8 and June 22 council meetings due to pecuniary reasons, and the group has raised concern whether she would be benefiting from the controversial project.
Civic Square is a $8.6 million project – of which the town is paying $3.5 million for their space – which would see a new town office and business space in a twostory office building on 20th Avenue next to the Coaldale Public Library.
Simpson’s husband, Roger Simpson, works at the Epiphany Group, who has submitted an Expression Of Interest (EOI) for the project. According to his profile on their website, he has worked there since 2018 and holds the title Chief Real Estate Officer.
Simpson said since council approved its Capital Budget at their regular Jan. 27, 2020 meeting, she has not participated in any discussions or votes pertaining to the project. EG had submitted an EOI to Avail LLP in response to the Town’s RFEI for its Civic Square project on Feb. 6, 2020.
“I emphasize that I have not participated in any town discussions or votes pertaining to Project approval, scope, contracting or funding since council approved its Capital Budget at the regular council meeting of Jan. 27, 2020. EG submitted an EOI to Avail LLP in response to the Town’s RFEI for its Civic Square project on Feb. 6, 2020,” said Simpson. “In compliance with my duty of confidentiality, any information pertaining to the project and the Request for Expression of Interest that I may have been privy to before recusing myself, I have kept strictly private and have not shared with my husband. I have abided by all ethical and legal rules pertaining to conflicts of interest.”
According to the Municipal Government Act, sect. 172 states that a councillor must disclose the pecuniary interest regarding a matter before council or a body of which they are a council representative prior to any discussions on it, and abstain from voting or any discussions on it.
Concerns were also raised over Simpson’s participation in the discussion and vote over a letter and plebiscite request at Coaldale town council’s July 13 meeting. The letter, from Citizens for a Better Coaldale, outlined some of their concerns on the Civic Square project, such as costs and a lack of transparency and public consultation, and requested that the town hold a plebiscite on the project and put all capital projects on hold until there is full disclosure and approval from the town’s taxpayers.
Simpson said she did not recused herself from the discussions pertaining to the July letter and plebiscite request as “EG’s EOI was clearly too remote to reasonably be regarded as likely to influence my vote on plebiscites and capital”, and as the topic involved whether council would determine whether capital projects were in Coaldale’s best long-term interests or if these decisions would go to a community vote, she believed she was obligated to participate.
“Regarding the way I voted on the motion, I chose to decline the request for a plebiscite because if approved, council would be effectively delegating capital project approval generally, and specifically to those who are able to show up for the plebiscite vote. Council has a duty, and was elected, to represent the residents of Coaldale and make reasoned decisions in their best interest, not to delegate the decision-making to a partial group of the public,” said Simpson. “As an aside, by the time my vote was recorded, six of the seven councillors had already voted in favour of the motion to decline, such that my additional vote did not have a substantive effect.”
Simpson said she has never been directly contacted about any of these accusations.
“Apart from the unpleasantness of being grossly mischaracterized, my main concern is the ill-will and division this shaming campaign could foment within our community. The unwarranted attempts to provoke discord within Coaldale is alarming and has the potential to cause long lasting damage. Toxic discord, distinguishable from robust, spirited dialogue, may stand to benefit some in our community, but it will weaken our community as a whole,” said Simpson. “I am gravely concerned about the chilling effect this shaming campaign could have on potential future candidates for town council. Indeed, excellent candidates that would have otherwise run for council may be heavily deterred from running for fear of being unjustifiably vilified.”
She urged those with concerns to contact her over phone or email, and urged those with grievances to address them with respect and not through misinformation, bullying or personal attacks.
In a statement read during council’s regular Sept. 14 meeting, during which Simpson recused herself, and provided to the Sunny South News, Mayor Kim Craig said in his opinion, CfaBC was not interested in having constructive dialogue with the town, and “appear, instead, to be politically motivated and dedicated to painting the town and town council in a disparaging light, sowing discord in the community along the way”, and accused them of spreading misinformation.
He said Simpson had complied with all legislative requirements related to conflict of interest situations this Council term. He noted that after EG had submitted it’s EOI on Feb. 6 – which was the deadline for proponents – during the following council meeting on Feb. 10, Simpson had announced she would be recusing herself from item 12.1 on the council agenda, a Request for Expressions of Interest Submission update with respect to the town’s Civic Square project.
“At the start of this meeting, Councillor Simpson said that she would be recusing herself from this particular item on the agenda,” said Craig. “When council got around to Item 12.1 on the agenda, coun. Simpson recused herself from council chambers. Which is exactly what an elected official is supposed to do when a matter could ‘monetarily impact the councillor or an employer of the councillor; or the councillor knows or ought to have known the matter could monetarily impact the councillor’s family’- and none of the exceptions apply.”
He noted for smaller communities, it is not uncommon for conflict of interest situations to arise in local governments, but it’s how a councillor responds that is key.
“Under the Municipal Government Act, every member of council has an obligation to disclose and abstain from before council in which he or she has a pecuniary interest. If it falls within the realm of a pecuniary interest, the councillor is not to be present for any discussion related to the matter in respect of which they disclosed a pecuniary interest. In such instances, the councillor is recused from council chambers and does not return until after the discussion has concluded,” said Craig. “In view of this, having been part of every council discussion this council term, I can say that coun. Simpson’s actions have been entirely in line with the requirements of sect. 172 of the Municipal Government Act. As a town, we have been in full compliance with all legislation pertaining to this area, including the town’s handling of the procurement process surrounding the Civic Square project.”
Craig said that as the case with the previous two letters from CfaBC, they hadn’t waited for the town to respond before making “but instead, have undertaken efforts to pre-emptively disseminate their viewpoint through various mediums”, raising questions as to how interested they are in talking with the town.
During the meeting, coun. Henry ‘Butch’Pauls, who is a member of the Civic Square evaluation committee along with coun. (s) Roger Hohm, Doreen Lloyd, expressed support for Simpson, saying she “does not deserve the criticism that she has been subject to” by CfaBC.
Craig said based on CfaBC’s behaviour, he no longer sees a need to meet with them. Council had previously passed a motion during their July 13 meeting to invite the group for a meeting to talk about the project and the transparency the process had, after the details for the project were finalized, during a September council meeting.
Council unanimously passed a motion to receive the reports for information and to rescind council’s invitation to meet with CfaBC. Simpson was not present at the time of the vote, so the vote passed 6-0.
Craig’s full statement can be read at https://www.coaldale.ca/about/news-public-notices/mayor-responds-allegations-levied-against-town-council-and-civic-square. As of press deadline, the town has not entered into a contract with any of the proponents who submitted a proposal to undertake the Civic Square project.
In a release sent out after the council meeting last week, CfaBC said they had never received an invitation to meet with council during a September meeting, and criticized the town for a lack of transparency around Civic Square and other major projects.
“These issues and numerous other serious concerns have been communicated to town councillors on many occasions without any action being taken. Coaldale taxpayers are not pleased, angry in fact. There is still time and ways to resolve these questions. Council appear to place a higher priority on supporting each other and town administration, rather than being influenced by the Coaldale residents who elected them. Instead of investigating these matters in a thorough, thoughtful, and transparent manner as elected officials should, our council appears to be ever defiant,” reads the CfaBC release.