OPINION: The code says no

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There are grumblings circulating around the ever-present Chatham-Kent rumour mill that some members of municipal council should be in hot water over how they voted on the acquisition of the former Sears building.

Some folks are doing more than just verbally complaining. Emails have been sent, and phone calls made, asking for punishment to any councillor who did not declare a conflict of interest on the vote if they had received any campaign contribution from one of the owners of the Downtown Chatham Centre (DCC) during the last municipal election campaign in 2022.

Two councillors – Ryan Doyle and Connor Allin – declared conflicts of interest in the matter, but not related to campaign contributions. For example, Allin works at Retro Suites/The Chilled Cork, which is owned by the Myers family, which has part ownership in the DCC.

However – and these complaints are being voiced by multiple sources – councillors Michael Bondy and Brock McGregor each received contributions from members of the DCC ownership for the 2022 election campaign.

The complainants seem to think donations for re-election efforts, for $1,200 and $250 respectively, is tantamount to a bribe and is therefore a pecuniary conflict of interest.

However, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent’s code of conduct for members of council states that is not the case.

Under the category of Gifts and Benefits, it states, “No member shall accept a fee, advance, gift, advantage, service, benefit or hospitality that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her duties of office.”

That might lead some to see there should be a conflict.

But, there are exceptions to the rule. One of those exceptions the code specifically mentions is “a political contribution otherwise reported publicly by law, in the case of members running for office.”

For anyone thinking the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing should be the overarching judge on this matter, well, ministry officials largely leave it in the hands of municipalities and their respective integrity commissioners to hand matters.

There’s a clear code of conduct for everyone to see from the municipality, including councillors. McGregor and Bondy followed it to a T in this instance.

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