Brooke-Alvinston councillors broke Municipal Conflict of Interest Act says Integrity Commissioner

BLAKE ELLIS/LOCAL JOURNALISM INITIATIVE PHOTO Mayor David Ferguson, Deputy Mayor Frank Nemcek and Councillor Jenny Redick swear the oath of office administered by Hope United Church’s Rev. Jim Breen in Nov. 2022 at the Brooke-Alvinston-Inwood Community Centre. Redick and Nemcek were found guilty of a conflict of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act.

Nemcek and Redick had an indirect interest but won’t face a penalty

Two Brooke-Alvinston council members who are also members of a local service club were in conflict when they voted on the club’s lease with the municipality.

That from the Integrity Commissioner who investigated a complaint against Deputy Mayor Frank Nemcek and Councillor Jenny Redick – both members of the Alvinston Optimists. They voted in favour of a rental agreement before council in April prompting the complaint to the Integrity Commissioner.

Redick said in June she read a decision from the municipality’s former Integrity Commissioner, Robert Swayze, who ruled in 2021 that Nemcek and former councillor Jamie Armstrong didn’t have a conflict under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act in a vote to approve the pavilion at the community centre. “In my opinion, the two members do not have a pecuniary interest in the construction of the building and therefore do not contravene the MCIA. It is not required that they declare a conflict on any related matter coming before council,” Swayze wrote then.

Redick felt it was the same situation in April and decided cast a vote at council.

But Swayze is no longer Brooke-Alvinston’s Integrity Commissioner and the new IC – Laura Dean of Aird Berlis – says while Nemcek and Redick clearly did not benefit at all financially from the contract which gives the Optimists rights to the pavilion, Swayze’s opinion was wrong. John Mascarin, who spoke on behalf of Dean, told council Swayze should have advised the councillors they did have an indirect interest in the matter because of their ties to the service club.

“It appeared that the Integrity Commissioner took the position that integrity that the peculiar interests have to be direct. That is just not the case,” he said July 13.

“They can be members of the club, but then they cannot make decisions when it affects and impacts materially significantly, indirectly, a financial interest of the Optimist Club, that is the law that is absolutely clear,” said Mascarin.

“If you have a an association or connection or reach to any of those entities, the corporations or partnerships, the employers or the body that are referred to in section two (of the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act), any reasonable person would be likely to believe that you would have a conflict at law and that is the evil that section two seeks to safeguard.”

And Mascarin added the councillors should have known voting on Optimists business at a council meeting would have reprecussions.

“What’s disappointing in this particular case is, not the weeks before (the vote) I appeared before council, and I made these statements….that was actually discussed at the conclusion (of an education session) during the questions and answer period at that presentation to council. So, there was a little bit of blinders going on.”

Nemcek was angry with the decision asking Mascarin “who made you God?
“Our last Integrity Commission said that we had no conflict of interest. So he left and you came along and now you say that we do have a pecuniary interest. What if you leave and then somebody else comes in and says we don’t got to conflict? Who do we believe at all?”

Mascarin says the decision was based on a number of similar cases across the province where councillors were not directly benefitting financially but it could be believed by the public there was a benefit because of their ties to an organization.

Nemcek says he’s been a council member for four terms and has done what is best for Brooke-Alvinston. “I think I always take the municipal side first, and then my personal side. So, for somebody to do this against Councillor Redick, and myself, I think it’s shameful and that’s my opinion.”

“I find that an extraordinary comment,” the lawyer responded. “It is the law…I’ve mentioned this before. I cast no aspersions on the good work that you do for this very beneficial social organization that seeks to help your community, I do not have a problem with that.

“You cannot, though, be the master at both points. You’re either are a member or you are a council member, you can’t make a decision wearing both hats at the same simultaneous time.

“And my determination is made in accordance with the law…I stand by what I said and I don’t think it is at all shameful.”

The Integrity Commissioner could have ordered a judge to review the case and impose a penalty but Mascarin says “the shedding a light” on the issue was enough. But he cautioned council “indirect pecuniary interests are a real thing.”