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Mayor questions Hay River councillor's motives

The mayor says certain councillors may have put their personal interests ahead of the town's when they voted against a new procurement bylaw.

"We had a few councillors that probably had interests, that valued their own interest, and that probably wasn't the best decision for our town, but that's politics," Mayor Brad Mapes said in an interview on July 3.

Mayor Brad Mapes said coun. Vince McKay "probably should have" recused himself from the recent vote on a proposed procurement bylaw. Sidney Cohen/NNSL photo

Mapes was lamenting council's recent rejection of a bylaw that would have updated the guidelines by which the town buys goods and services.

In a three-to-two vote, council axed the procurement bylaw, which excluded home-based businesses from the preferential treatment offered to local companies. Couns. Vince McKay, Keith Dohey and Steve Anderson believed the bylaw was unfair to small businesses.

Coun. Kandis Jameson and deputy mayor Donna Lee Jungkind said storefront businesses deserve special credit because they have higher overhead costs than home-based businesses.

The mayor said McKay, who owns a home-based business, "probably should have" recused himself from the vote because his business "is one of the few companies that actually gets affected by it."

McKay runs Westech Fire and Safety, a firefighter gear and apparel company.

"He does sell a lot of items through the town," said Mapes.

The mayor's business, Wesclean Northern Sales Ltd., also does business with the town.

McKay led the charge against the proposed bylaw, calling it "absolutely ridiculous" in a Facebook post hours before the June 26 vote.

When he was told some of the mayor's remarks, McKay bristled.

"The mayor's comments, I'm not getting involved in that, that's unprofessional," he said on July 4.

"I'm not playing those games."

McKay said he does "very little" business with the town.

The procurement bylaw would have granted a 10 per cent purchase preference to Hay River businesses with brick-and-mortar shops, but not to businesses that operate out of an owner's home.

Currently, all local businesses benefit from the purchase preference, which allows Hay River businesses to place bids up to 10 per cent higher than non-local competitors and still be awarded a contract by the town.

McKay does not believe he was in a conflict when he voted on the procurement bylaw, because the policy would have affected all home-based businesses in the same way.

"There's a community of interest," he said. "There's more than just me as a home business. Everybody that is a home business owner could be impacted."

The territorial Conflict of Interest Act, by which Hay River town council is bound, provides an exemption for a "community of interest."

This means a councillor may vote on matters in which he has a financial interest, if his interest lines up with that of the community affected by the decision.

"It is critical that your interest be affected in the same way as the interest of other members of the group, even if your interest is not affected to the same degree," states a Department of Municipal and Community Affairs document on conflicts of interest.

McKay pointed out that every member of council and the mayor either owns or works for a Hay River company that does, or has done, work for the town.

"If I were in a conflict, everybody would be in a conflict," he said.

McKay said his issue with the bylaw was that it puts small businesses at a disadvantage when competing for town contracts.

"The sad part is, the people that brought the bylaw forward and that are on the policy committee are large business owners and a manager of a very large business," he said.

The policy committee consists of Mapes, Jungkind, who is the general manager of Aurora Ford, which has done business with the town, and Jameson, who owns Hay River Disposals Ltd., which does garbage pickup for the town.

Mapes acknowledged that councillors' business ties mean questions of potential conflicts are not cut and dry.

"Every councillor on council has got a business, so would that put everybody in conflict? I would say we would, I would, have to have a legal opinion," he said.

"If all five are in a conflict, how do you go forward?"

Still, Mapes believes, McKay was "probably in more of a conflict" than the other members of council.

"When it comes to the rest of council, they're not getting anything more than any of the other businesses in town would get," he said.

Jay Boast, the spokesperson for Municipal and Community Affairs, stated in an email that elected officials can ask their senior administrative officer for a legal review "on whether or not they would need to declare conflict for something like this – or whether it meets one of the exemptions allowed for under the Act."

Judy Goucher, the town's senior administrative officer, was out of the office and was not available for an interview before the Hub's deadline.

Glenn Smith, the assistant senior administrative officer, said he did not feel comfortable answering questions about potential conflicts on council, as he has only been on the job for about two months.

"I think it's a fair question to ask, but I would prefer if went through Judy," he said.

In Mapes's view, the new procurement policy would have clarified procedures for administration.

"Council and administration all have to understand procurement and follow it. In the past we've slipped up and never followed our procurement," he said.

"That's a bigger problem than worrying about the home-based businesses."