A ruling keeping elected officials from the boards of not-for-profit societies could have a larger impact than initially thought, says a UBCM executive member.
On Jan. 11, the B.C. Court of Appeal overturned a decision dismissing allegations that members of the Salt Spring Island Local Trust Committee had a conflict of interest after voting to give money to two newly incorporated not-for-profit societies of which they held director seats.
In his reasons for judgment, Justice Ian Donald said the original B.C. Supreme Court judge came at the original ruling from too narrow a view.
"The pecuniary interest of the respondents lies in the fulfillment of their fiduciary obligation to their societies. When they voted for the expenditure of public money on the two contracts, which master were they serving, the public or the societies?" Donald wrote.
Al Richmond, third vice-president for the Union of BC Municipalities, said the decision will play a big role in the future of how elected officials interact with their communities - especially smaller municipalities.
The ruling interprets the rules regarding conflict of interest differently than they've been looked at for years, said Richmond, an 18-year elected official who currently chairs the Cariboo Regional District.
"It has always been suggested there had to be a direct pecuniary interest to the councillor or the director - that they receive something," Richmond said, "Not if you were acting on behalf of a board or a larger group, a community group."
The UBCM will study the ruling further and monitor what sort of reaction it gets within its membership before seeking any type of action.
"It's unfortunate that some of the people with excellent knowledge will feel compelled to step away from the table and some of the budget decisions being made, if you're going to give grants to some of these groups and organizations," Richmond said.
In Prince George, Coun. Lyn Hall resigned his council-appointed seat on the board of directors for the 2015 Canada Winter Games Host Society because of the decision - a move Richmond called appropriate, but disappointing.
Richmond was involved with the committee organizing 2006 B.C. Northern Winter Games in 100 Mile House.
"Those groups from time to time receive funding from local government sources to make things a success," he said. "And there's no direct benefit to the individual serving on the board. In fact, they give tirelessly of their time and they're not compensated for it."
During Monday night's meeting, city council agreed to appoint Les Waldie to fill Hall's spot around the planning table for the Winter Games.
Coun. Albert Koehler said it sad that Hall was "more or less forced to step aside" and Coun. Cameron Stolz questioned whether or not Hall could still hold an ex-officio position on the board. Despite the impact, Coun. Murry Krause said he was glad the decision provided some form of clarity on the issue.
But there are still many questions to be answered, such as which groups fall into the affected categories. While the board of the Prince George Public Library was ruled out (council is legislated to have a member hold a seat), others such as for the Barkerville Heritage Trust or the Rotary Club were not immediately clear.
"My concern is the reach of this decision is beyond the 'director,'" said Coun. Dave Wilbur, who added he would approach holding an active membership in a not-for-profit society with caution.
That's a balance Richmond said he has weighed for years, and that he only holds a membership in one community group because of the potential he may be asked to make a financial decision that conflicts with his involvement.
"And that's sometimes been disappointing for me because I like to be involved... but sitting on their boards and being an active member of that society sometimes can bring some unwanted results or perceptions onto yourself and the society you're trying to help," he said. "I think most of us have the groups we're trying to help's best interests at heart, so I think you're going to see a lot of elected officials stepping back until we get some clarity on what's going on."