Stumbled into this conversation via a series of direct messages on Twitter this past weekend, after Ward 3 Coun. Debi Dignan-Rumble announced she had applied for the executive assistant to the mayor’s job that closes at the end of this week.
Dignan-Rumble declared a conflict when council added $4,000 to the budget of the mayor’s office during the estimates committee meeting, essentially using this as her way of announcing she’d applied for the job. In her statement, she indicated she would similarly abstain from any matters dealing with the finances of the mayor’s office or its staffing until the successful candidate for the position accepts the job offer.
So the question arose— wouldn’t almost anything before council put Dignan-Rumble in a position of a potential conflict of interest? Would all her votes for the meetings ahead be scrutinized by her potential new boss (uh, who would be the mayor, by the way)? Or, worse, be scrutinized by critics as trying to curry favour with the potential new boss?
The cleanest answer for those who would look to find a conflict on every corner here would have been for Dignan-Rumble to take a leave of absence until the position was filled. However she doesn’t have to do that.
Under the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, members of council only have to declare direct or indirect pecuniary interest when a matter comes before that council for consideration. “Direct” meaning only if the member of council or a parent, spouse or child of the member would be financially impacted by the decision, with “indirect” referring to the member, parent, spouse or child’s as a shareholder in a privately held company, holding a controlling interest in a publicly traded company or is a member of one.
None of those scenarios applies in this situation, outside of Dignan-Rumble voting on budgetary matters relating to the position she’s applied for. The fun part of that legislation is, however, that no one else on council can tell Dignan-Rumble to declare a conflict. The only person(s) who should even be advising any member of council on whether or not they hold a pecuniary interest is that member’s personal solicitor. While council’s solicitor certainly can offer his or her opinion, s/he is not in a position to advise an individual member as that solicitor serves council as a whole, not its members.
Now, things are much clearer should Dignan-Rumble get the job. The Municipal Elections Act Sec. 30(4) is quite clear on this, though it states it in reverse. Should you be elected or appointed, your resignation from your position within the municipality is effective the moment before you take your oath of office (for members of council). Vice versa, that means no member of council can be an employee of the municipality.