Brooke-Alvinston wants to know if councillors in community groups have a conflict

The original concept drawing of the Alvinston Optimist arena redevelopment including a pavilion seen to the right of the photo

Integrity Commissioner asked if councillors who are Optimists should be voting on pavilion project proposed by the service club

Councillors also want Deans’ involvement in the Inwood Firemens’ Association probed

Heather Wright/The Independent

Brooke-Alvinston is bringing in it’s Integrity Commissioner to figure out if councillors who are member of community groups have a conflict of interest.

Under the Ontario Municipal Act, politicians are not to benefit financially from their position. At each council meeting, they are to declare if they have a pecuniary or financial interest – directly or indirectly – in any of the items being discussed.

Mayor Dave Ferguson and Deputy Mayor Frank Nemcek say in the last few weeks, residents have been questioning whether Nemcek and fellow councillor, Jamie Armstrong, should be declaring an interest in the Alvinston Optimist’s plans to build a pavilion at the Brooke-Alvinston-Inwood Community Centre.

The project has been in the works for six years in several different forms. The Optimists first suggested a renewal of the arena, and then broke it up into phases to do one part of the project at a time.

Since 2018, Armstrong – first as the chair of the building committee and later when he became a councillor – brought the issue to council a number of times trying to come to some agreement which would see the pavilion built even though the club didn’t have all the money it needed to move ahead.

On Dec. 10, council discussed the issue again. The municipality had already set aside $80,000 for the project – money which was first expected to be used to hire a grant writer to obtain funding for the project. The money, council agreed, could go to help fund the project.

That night, Armstrong asked council to consider loaning the community group another $80,000 to be paid back with interest. Twice Armstrong made suggestions on how to proceed with a loan and, according to the minutes, he twice withdrew the motions which would have seen the group obtain the loan.

Instead, council agreed to allow The Optimist to build the pavilion, but wanted to have a legal agreement outlining exactly where and when the project would be built, that the club had insurance to cover the construction site, that the group provide proof they actually had the cash to build the project and that it would be done in a timely manner.

Armstrong later told The Independent the Optimists had secured a private loan to move forward with the $310,000 project before the Dec. 10 meeting.

Thursday, Nemcek said community members were confused how he and Armstrong – both Optimist members – could vote on the issue. “I’ve been chewed out for four times by four different people,” he says.

Ferguson says people have been asking him about the issue as well. “There’s a number of people in the township are very upset about the way this is progressing. Different people have had different phone calls asking ‘is this conflict of interest? Why are The Optimists able to run this through the council?’

“So, people have written letters people have called me, and not just one or two, there’s been a number of people have called asking ‘What is going on?'”

Ferguson says this is not the first time he’s questioned whether a council member should have been involved in a council discussion. Councillor Wayne Deans was on the executive of the Inwood Firemens’ Association at the time the township was trying to first work with the group on an agreement to continue leasing the hall and then when council dismantled the Inwood station.

Deans told council Thursday, he didn’t believe he had a conflict. “When we were going through the fire department stuff, I was questioned on a couple different times. And I went, and I looked into it. And I was told by a professional person, that as long as I had no personal or financial gain in it, there was no conflict of interest,” he says.

Armstrong, in an interview with The Independent, echoed Dean’s opinion about his own involvement in the Optimist pavilion.

“If myself or my family was going to benefit financially from the Optimist Club building this new washrooms and the pavilion up at the arena, then yes, I would have had to declare a conflict of interest. But the Optimist Club is a nonprofit organization.

“I do not receive any money from the Optimist Club, and I am not any way associated with the builder that’s going to be building the the building up there,” he says.

But council – in a vote of three to two with Ferguson, Nemcek and Councillor Jeannette Douglas voting in favour – decided to enlist the help of the Integrity Commissioner.

“It’s going to cost us a few dollars, but we can we’ll be able to say, ‘We’ve done our job. We’re doing our due diligence and this is what has to happen.’ …It will give us clarity…This is two issues now and perhaps it’s time to that the council has some training and education.”

Nemcek is looking forward to getting some clarity on the issue. “I want to answer Yes, I do or I don’t (have a conflict) and I’ll bide whatever the fate.”

But Armstrong says council should not be spending money on the issue.

“I’m sure that the Integrity Commissioner is going to rule in our favor,” he says.

It is not clear how long an investigation would take. Clerk Administrator Janet Denkers says the municipality will submit its concerns and await his decision.And she wasn’t able to say what the investigation would cost noting the Integrity Commissioner works on an hourly rate.