During Monday night’s council meeting, Coun. Nelson Tilbury said Coun. Dave Hensman appeared to have had a conflict of interest because he had “acquired an interest” in a former pool hall located on the southeast corner of First Avenue and Welton Street.
The property is located at 33212 First Avenue, which is about block away from the former Buy Low building, recently purchased by the city.
“This location is at ground zero for the centre thrust of the revitalization for the city,” said Tilbury. “All of us have been working for a long time on this process with a very keen interest in this intersection. The purchase of the old Buy Low building was made behind closed doors and only a few had any knowledge of the location of the thrust.”
Tilbury said that Hensman had such knowledge.
“Proper investigation and clarification is required here,” said Tilbury, noting the Community Charter states that if a council member had a direct or indirect pecuniary interest in a matter, then the member must not vote or be a part of any discussion related to it.
Tilbury told The Record he brought the issue into the public arena after it failed to make it onto the agenda of an in-camera (closed) meeting.
Hensman is vacationing out of the country with his family and was absent from Monday’s council meeting. Contacted in California by The Record, Hensman called the accusations against him “wild” and “erroneous.”
“The accusations have no foundation,” said Hensman.
Hensman says he spent almost two years looking for a facility in Mission and viewed several others before signing a one-year lease in September for the First Avenue building on behalf of his company Big Sky Ventures, an investment corporation.
Sears (Chilliwack) Ltd. is listed as the registered owner of the old pool hall, according to a land title search. At the end of his lease, Hensman has the option to renew or purchase the facility.
In addition to operating his business out of the building, he also rents it out to groups for meetings, music concerts, etc.
Currently, the building is also being subleased to a counsellor and used by a church group called The Gathering, which Hensman started in 2012, and still serves as its pastor.
The Gathering is a branch of a non-profit organization called Nex Gen, which is also led by Hensman, and operates out of the same building. The group contributes humanitarian aid to developing countries.
The district looked at several sites before the old Buy Low property on Welton was purchased, said Hensman. “I didn’t handle the negotiations, and I didn’t know we would get that building.”
Plans to revitalize the downtown have been public knowledge since 2012 and the district’s latest land acquisition in the area has always been earmarked for civic use, said Ken Bjorgaard, Mission’s chief administrative officer.
Previous councils have discussed that property before, added Bjorgaard.
Decisions to purchase property are made in closed in-camera meetings, and Bjorgaard refused to release any information regarding those discussions, including when negotiations for the building began and which councillors voted on it.
“There was an alleged conflict of interest … at this point we (the district) are investigating,” said Bjorgaard.
The district will be making a statement before the end of the month to clarify the situation, he added.