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Did a Lethbridge city councillor break the law?

A Lethbridge city councillor may have failed to declare a pecuniary interest in something they voted on, contravening the Municipal Government Act.

Between the 23rd and 27th of November 2020, Lethbridge City Council met as the city finance committee to deliberate on the new municipal budget.

The city council had directed city administration to draft suggestions city could implement that would allow them to approve a 0% municipal tax increase over the next 2 budget years.

City council discussed those nearly 150 initiatives during that 5-day period, rejecting some and approving others, then submitted them as a general recommendation to city council, who ultimately approved them on 14 December.

One of the recommendations was “A-85: Management Wage Freeze”, which was as follows:

Direct the City Manager to implement a 0% wage increase for management non-union staff for 2021; at a total projected savings of $513,000 ($403,000 tax-supported and $110,000 utility supported and self-supported).

That motion was amended via a motion from Belinda Crowson (seconded by Joe Mauro) to extend that wage freeze into 2022.

The original motion was moved by Blaine Hyggen and seconded by Ryan Parker. The amendment was approved 9–0 (meaning the mayor and all 8 councillors were present and voted). The amended motion was also approved 9–0.

If you look at the City of Lethbridge 2020 Compensation Disclosure List, we see 3 groups of people who are compensated by the city:

  • Elected officials
  • Unionized positions
  • Exempt positions

It’s that latter group—exempt positions—that the above motion applies to.

In the list of exempt positions, one particular position stands out as unique regarding this motion: “Corporate Sustainability Manager”.

According to this Community Issues Committee agenda from September 2020, this August 2020 news article from Resource Recycling, and this LinkedIn profile, the corporate sustainability manager for the City of Lethbridge since August 2018 has been Mandi Parker.

That name appears on the official city council bio for Ryan Parker, who lists a Mandi as his “high school sweetheart”, who he’s married to. The two names are also paired together in this obituary for a Perry Parker and this obituary for a Ken Parker.

If the Mandi Parker who’s the city’s corporate sustainability manager also is the Mandi Parker who’s married to Ryan Parker, then this complicates the above motion that finance committee approved.

The Municipal Government Act has a division called “Pecuniary Interest of Councillors”. Here are a few sections from it.

Section 169(1) contains some definitions:

(b) “councillor’s family” means the councillor’s spouse or adult interdependent partner, the councillor’s children, the parents of the councillor and the parents of the councillor’s spouse or adult interdependent partner;

(c) “spouse” means the spouse of a married person but does not include a spouse who is living separate and apart from the person if the person and spouse have separated pursuant to a written separation agreement or if their support obligations and family property have been dealt with by a court order.

p. 110

Section 170 outlines what qualifies as “pecuniary interest”:

170(1) Subject to subsection (3), a councillor has a pecuniary interest in a matter if

(a) the matter could monetarily affect the councillor or an employer of the councillor, or

(b) the councillor knows or should know that the matter could monetarily affect the councillor’s family.

p. 111

Section 172 outlines when a city councillor should disclose a pecuniary interest:

172(1) When a councillor has a pecuniary interest in a matter before the council, a council committee or any other body to which the councillor is appointed as a representative of the council, the councillor must, if present,

(a) disclose the general nature of the pecuniary interest prior to any discussion of the matter,

(b) abstain from voting on any question relating to the matter,

(c) subject to subsection (3), abstain from any discussion of the matter, and

(d) subject to subsections (2) and (3), leave the room in which the meeting is being held until discussion and voting on the matter are concluded.

So, it seems to me that if these two Mandi Parkers are the same person, then Ryan Parker should’ve declared a pecuniary interest during that portion of the finance committee meeting and left the room. Given that he seconded the original motion then voted on both the amendment and the amended motion, it’s clear that he didn’t do either.

A motion that could affect his spouse’s salary clearly qualifies as a pecuniary interest, even if the end result of the recommendation leaves him with no net increase in household income. Pecuniary interest, according to the MGA, is when a “matter could monetarily affect” a councillor or his family. The MGA doesn’t restrict that to just positive effects, or a monetary increase. And anyone who’s experienced a wage freeze knows that wage freezes monetarily affect you.

During the 14 December city council meeting, where council ultimately approved the recommendations from the finance committee, including A-85, Parker actually did declare a pecuniary interest and excused himself from the meeting.

According to the minutes of that meeting,

Councillor R.K. Parker declared a Pecuniary Interest on Item A-85 and asked that the Main Motion be divided to allow for a vote on A-85 separately

For the separate voting of A-85, the minutes report “Absent: R.K. Parker”.

So, it seems as though he realized in the city council meeting that he had a pecuniary interest in the wage freeze of management non-union staff.

However, section 172(1) of the MGA states that a councillor has to declare a pecuniary interest whether the matter is “before the council, a council committee or any other body to which the councillor is appointed as a representative of the council”. And finance committee certainly seems to qualify as a council committee.

And it’s not the first time Parker’s dealt with pecuniary interest as a city councillor. He declared a pecuniary interest and excused himself during a city council meeting on 25 July 2005, when the council approved the city’s hiring his digital message board company, Go West Marketing. Certainly, this wasn’t new to him.

So what does this mean now?

That’s where the next division of the MGA comes in: “Division 7: Disqualification of Councillors”, specifically subsection (g):

174(1) A councillor is disqualified from council if

(g) the councillor contravenes section 172

p. 115–116

Section 172, of course, being the section on disclosing pecuniary interest, which I included above.

Further to that, section 175(1) states, “A councillor that is disqualified must resign immediately.”

Based on my reading of the Municipal Government Act and my understanding of the events surrounding item A-85, it seems to me that Parker knowingly had a pecuniary interest in this item and failed to declare it during the finance committee meeting, which disqualifies him from city council.

The MGA is clear that the next step should be that Parker resign immediately. If he doesn’t, the act authorizes city council to apply for a judicial order that officially declares him disqualified.

And if city council fails to do that, the act authorizes any elector to do it instead, providing that they file an affidavit showing reasonable grounds that he no longer qualifies as a councillor and they pay $500.

I guess we’ll see what happens next.

Update: I received the following email from Ryan Parker after the story had already gone to print:

Good Morning Kim,

Hope all is well. I just want clarify something that occurred during the November finance deliberations. I made a mistake during the deliberations in voting on the salary compensation for administrative staff. Complete accident. Fortunately when the final recommendation came forward to City Council for ratification I removed myself from the vote. Hopefully this clarification helps.

Thanks,

Ryan

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By Kim Siever

I live in Lethbridge with my spouse and 4 of our 6 children. I’m a writer, focusing on political news, social issues, and the occasional poem. My politics are radically left. I am a political economy student at the University of Athabasca, working on my second undergrad degree.

I’m also dichotomally Mormon. And I’m a functional vegetarian: I have a blog post about that somewhere around here. My pronouns are he/him, and I’m queer.

4 replies on “Did a Lethbridge city councillor break the law?”

Good Morning Kim,
Hope all is well. I just want clarify something that occurred during the November finance deliberations. I made a mistake during the deliberations in voting on the salary compensation for administrative staff. Complete accident. Fortunately when the final recommendation came forward to City Council for ratification I removed myself from the vote. Hopefully this clarification helps.
In regards to past business. Years ago when I owned my business I always went above and beyond in making sure to declare any conflicts of interest when my business had any dealings with the city.
Thanks,
Ryan

What about during the time of all the council resolutions and votes concerning curbside recycling and the like? Were some of them during the time that your wife worked for the recycling department at city hall? What would voting records show?

A complaint for a investigation of pecuniary interest or not recuse themselves from vote on financial increase’s to allied arts council in operating budgets and Cip for performing arts centre. Councilor Carlson had recused himself on finance vote on Yates his words on reuse i had work with New West Musical >who have deep affiliation with Allied arts group..

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