Transparency talk makes sparks fly across Richmond city council

Sparks flew among councillors last week when Coun. Kelly Greene presented a motion at the general-purposes meeting calling for greater transparency of councillors’ financial statements.

Her intent was to have the motion forwarded to the Union of B.C. Municipalities (UBCM) in the fall asking for wider disclosure of family assets that would include property owned by a politician's extended family.

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The proposed resolution was that financial disclosure statements include the assets and liabilities of spouses and real property of an elected official’s children, brothers, sisters, mother and father, except their primary residence. This would affect properties in the municipality where the politician is elected.

Mayor Malcolm Brodie called the motion “draconian” and “unwise,” saying it would restrict people from running for office if their family members refused to cooperate.

“If you have a brother who will not tell you his assets, that’s all that has to happen. You can’t run, and you can’t serve,” he said. “Is that what we’re looking for?”

However, Greene said forcing the disclosure of family members’ finances would address not just concerns regarding conflicts of interest, but the appearance of conflicts of interest.

“I think it’s incumbent on us to do everything we can to show we’re open, honest and transparent,” she said, adding that the reputation of politicians at this point is lower than that of used-car salesmen.

But Brodie took “great offence to those comments about what we’re doing,” saying that council members go “out of their way” to disclose conflicts and perceived conflicts.

The rule most people follow is, if they think they have a conflict, they leave the room, he noted.

Coun. Bill McNulty also appeared deeply offended and asked the “presenter” — Greene — whether she thought he and his wife aren’t “good citizens,” because that’s what the motion implies.

“I’d like to know why we’re doing this — tell me what fundamentally we have wrong in this city,” he said, adding that Greene kept making “accusations.”

Greene called a “point of order,” saying McNulty accused her of making accusations of specific people. “I object to that,” she said, but the mayor let McNulty continue.

McNulty then suggested council needed ‘a code of conduct’ and ‘a code of procedures of operations’ “because, obviously, there is no respect on this council.”

“I swore an oath, I have for 25 years. And swearing an oath on the bible, I can’t give you any more. If you want to humble me more, because you want to put this forward, so be it, but you’ve got to live with your conscience.”

He added people threw mud at him for 10 years and tried to make council look bad. And now those people are at the table making decisions, he said.

Siding with Greene, Coun. Harold Steves said he was attacked during the last election because his brother owned property. He said this might not have happened if he’d put his brother’s assets on a piece of paper beforehand.

The motion, which passed with amendments despite opposition from Brodie and Couns. McPhail, McNulty and Loo, was one of three Greene brought forward to bring to the upcoming UBCM convention.

The second motion, which was to ask the province for a conflict of interest commissioner, was carried but with an amendment.

The resolution, asking the province to “provide” a municipal conflict of interest commissioner was amended to ask the province to “consider” this position.

The current practice of having to go to the Supreme Court of B.C. with a conflict is “onerous,” Greene said.

She pointed to the example of Ontario where they have an integrity commissioner.

The third motion put forward by Greene, to bring a motion to UBCM about suspending meetings during the election period, was defeated.

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