Uncertainty over conflict of interest rules for elected officials turned Thursday's Regional District of Fraser-Fort George board meeting into a game of musical chairs.
A Jan. 11 B.C. Court of Appeal decision on a case out of Salt Spring Island has left local government leaders at a loss when it comes to where they can draw the line between involvement in not-for-profit organizations and municipal responsibilities.
"We're scrambling here, much like everybody else, waiting to see how this goes," chief administrative officer Jim Martin had said the previous afternoon. That scramble played itself out in dramatic fashion.
Thursday's regional district meeting saw vice-chair Dave Wilbur take over from chair Art Kaehn who recused himself from a vote on retaining membership in Union of B.C. Municipalities because he sits on the group's executive as local area representative.
Area H director Ken Starchuk then excused himself from a similar vote regarding the Trans Canada Yellowhead Highway Association, with Kaehn taking his seat at the table. Kaehn, McBride director Ken Frazier and Wilbur all left for a vote on the North Central Local Government Association, leaving the remaining group of directors to hold a quick vote to make area C director Lara Beckett acting director in the absence of the group's chair and vice chair.
Prince George director Cameron Stolz also erred on the side of caution - he sits on committees which ultimately advise the board of directors - and removed himself from a vote on the Federation of Canadian Municipalities.
"This is the new reality of ping pong," Wilbur said, with other colleagues also making light of the frequent trips made in and out of the boardroom.
But despite a slightly comedic atmosphere at times, the consequences of taking a light approach to the ruling could be severe. The ultimate penalty for not declaring a conflict of interest can be as extreme as being removed from office.
Prince George Coun. Lyn Hall, sitting in as an alternate director in Mayor Shari Green's absence, advised his fellow directors to proceed with caution.
"It's a very serious thing ... and very murky," he said. Hall resigned as the city's representative on the board of the 2015 Canada Winter Games in late January as a result of the ruling.
Some of the other affiliations that regional district reps now have to keep in mind when deciding whether or not they can vote include Barkerville Heritage Trust, community associations, farmers' institutes, Fraser Basin Council, Robson Valley Entertainment Society, Valemount Area Recreation Development Association, Valemount Entertainment Society and volunteer fire department societies.
Kaehn said he erring on the side of extreme caution and has not only stepped down from the board of his local community association, but has also withdrawn his membership from cultural organizations.
The board voted in favour of sending a letter to the provincial Ministry of Community, Sport and Cultural Development to consider making legislative changes to deal with the issue. Of paramount concern is the issue of quorum when dealing with approval of the regional district's financial plan next month.
"Although the main concern is the ability to consider and adopt the financial plan bylaw, there are also concerns associated with even a minimum quorum with regard to the appropriateness given that the financial plan bylaw is likely the largest policy document to come forward for consideration each year," Martin wrote in his report to the directors.
In the meantime, administration may also find other ways to structure meeting agendas so that directors can excuse themselves for one or two items as opposed to having to miss out on entire blocks of voting.