Some members of Rocanville town council have raised concerns about a new provincial requirement that members of council sign public disclosure statements specifying their employers, property ownership, and business interests, as well as those of their families.
As part of a series of reforms to tighten conflict of interest rules, councillors and mayors are being required to sign the statements, filed with the town office and accessible by the public, to make it clear if there are any potential conflicts.
In the past, it was up to council members to declare a conflict of interest.
Two councillors expressed reservations about the disclosure statements at Wednesday’s town council meeting, and Rocanville council voted to send a letter to Minister of Government Relations Jim Reiter to question the need for the disclosure statements, and to inform him that they feel disclosure statements are a violation of their privacy.
Ken Nixon is one of the councillors who is concerned about the disclosure statements. Nixon said he would not sign his disclosure statement at last week’s meeting. He says he’s not concerned about the government asking for his personal information, but he takes issue with that information being accessible to the general public.
“I can’t go in and look at what everybody else in town owns at just the drop of a hat. I can’t walk into the town office and find out what everybody owns there. I don’t think it’s fair that just because we’re in public office, we put our names in to help the community and now basically all our affairs are out on the table,” he says.
“I’ve got nothing to hide. If they want something like that, put it in the office, fine. But if there’s a problem then the government officials or the police or whoever can look at it. If there’s an investigation to be done, well then it’s open to those people—but it should not just be open to everybody.
“It’s just the fact that any of our information becomes public knowledge. Nobody else gets to do that. So just because you sit on council all of a sudden all your affairs are public knowledge for anybody who wants to go and look at them? I’ve got no problem disclosing everything I do if it goes into the office and if they find that they want to investigate something I’ve done, then fine, take a look at everything I’ve done. But that’s for the courts or for the law.”
Councillor Stan Langley also opposes the public disclosure statements. Langley says he’d be willing to resign his council seat if the government forces him to sign a disclosure statement.
“Everybody preaches so much about the privacy act,” says Langley. “Anybody can find out anything about me, but I can’t find out anything about anybody else. If it was sitting in a file and it was for the ombudsman to see, no problem. But the way it’s set right now anybody from Rocanville can come in and look at that file, see what property own and who I work for and things like that. And it’s none of their business.”
The new conflict of interest rules were brought in after the reeve of the RM of Sherwood was removed for conflict of interest in a highly publicized scandal.
Langley says it’s unfair for the government to punish all municipal councils for the actions of one person.
“If you drop a dozen eggs on the floor and you crack one of them, you don’t throw all of them away,” says Langley. “Why are they labelling everyone as crooked? If that’s the way they want it, they’re going to have a hell of a time finding councillors to sit on council if you have to disclose everything.”
Langley says he’s willing to step down from council if the government forces the issue.
“I guess they can find another councillor. It just seems the government wants to have their hands in everything,” he says.
Both Langley and Nixon point out that Rocanville town councillors always declare a pecuniary interest when a conflict of interest arises, and the councillor involved leaves the room.
“It’s up to the people to elect the people that they think are honest to do the job, and if that isn’t good enough for the government then maybe they’ll have to come out and run the towns themselves,” says Langley.
Rocanville mayor Daryl Fingas says he shares Nixon’s and Langley’s frustration with the public disclosure statements.
“I feel the same way as everybody else. I’ve got no problem disclosing that information and putting it away in a file for any investigation by the municipal government later on. But I feel it invades my privacy for every person to come in and be able to look at it. I’ve got no problem with it being there, but I’ve got my privacy, too.”
Fingas says he thinks the public disclosure statements will discourage people from running for their local councils.
“I’ve heard that from the councillors already. They said, ‘If we have to do this I don’t know if I even want to sit on the council anymore.’ There’s just too much red tape.”
Fingas, Langley and Nixon all think the new conflict of interest legislation will be a hot topic at the upcoming convention of the Saskatchewan Urban Municipalities Association (SUMA) January 31 to February 3 in Regina.
Tiffany Wolf, a communications advisor with SUMA, says there will be two education sessions at the SUMA convention about the new conflict of interest legislation, led by the provincial ombudsman. She says she has not heard any concerns from municipalities regarding the legislation.