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UPDATED: Motion fails on conflict of interest issue
After intense debate Monday night, city councillors struck down a motion to refer a conflict of interest allegation to the B.C. Supreme Court.
Coun. Nelson Tilbury said at the Jan. 6 city council meeting that Coun. Dave Hensman appeared to have had a conflict of interest during the city's decision to acquire the former Buy Low building at 7337 Welton St. The city purchased the $1.95-million property in December, after city councillors supported it unanimously on Dec. 2, including Hensman, according to a district official.
The Record has confirmed that Hensman holds a one-year lease from September 2013 for a downtown property located at 33212 First Avenue, about one block away from the city-owned Welton building. When the lease runs out, Hensman has the option to renew it or purchase the building.
The district's purchase of the former Buy Low site is "ground zero" of its plans to revitalize the downtown, said Tilbury at the Jan. 6 meeting.
At Monday night's council meeting, Coun. Jeff Jewell said he did not know about Hensman's downtown lease until Tilbury brought it up in early January, and that "we were all caught unawares, unprepared and didn't really quite know how to proceed."
Hensman read a prepared statement in response.
"The district's purchase of the property was of no consequence to my leasehold interest in the downtown area. In other words, this purchase does not negatively or positively impact my leasehold interest in the downtown area. This, I understand, is now supported by the district's findings into this matter. In summary, I was acting in good faith and on behalf of the community interests when dealing with the land use for property purchase issues about which the conflict of interest matters were raised."
Hensman added that as a councillor, he will refrain from any further participation on issues of land use in the downtown while he has an interest in real estate in the downtown.
Tilbury countered with his own statement.
"Coun. Hensman's response is not going to get any pass with me. I do not find Coun. Hensman's comments believable…The property in question has the potential to become the most valuable location on main street. Coun. Hensman knew exactly what he was doing. Prior to Dec. 16, 2013, I had no knowledge of his activities or his acquisitions. He should have told me."
Tilbury made a motion Monday night to refer the matter to B.C. Supreme Court.
"I do believe Coun. Hensman should be able to have due process in this matter. In order to properly protect Coun. Hensman's rights, I would like to make a motion to send this forward under section 111 of the Community Charter where Coun. Hensman will have the proper venue to explain himself in front of a Supreme Court judge in a non-biased fashion where a proper decision can be made."
Councillors debated the issue extensively. In order for the motion to pass, the Community Charter requires two-thirds majority, which equated to five of seven councillors in favour.
Hensman also voted on the motion, according to the charter rule that all councillors must vote.
The final vote came down to Couns. Tilbury, Jewell, Jenny Stevens and Tony Luck in favour of sending the matter to the Supreme Court.
Couns. Hensman, Larry Nundal, and Mayor Ted Adlem were opposed, and the motion failed.
After the vote, Luck, who was chairing that night, said: "That failed, because it needs two-thirds. Alright, I don't think that's the end of it."
Several people from the public shouted "no, it's not" before storming out.
(An earlier version of this story and the Jan. 22 print edition of the Abbotsford-Mission News incorrectly indicated that it was council's decision to allow Coun. Hensman to vote on the motion. As the story states, the provincial Community Charter Act requires that all councillors must vote. The Abbotsford-Mission News apologizes for any confusion this may have caused.)
(Read the Mission City Record on Friday for more details.)