Saturday, May 15, 2004

The Bylaw Saga continues

Council members to contest exclusion

PATRICK MALONEY, Free Press Reporter 2004-05-15 03:16:01

Two embattled city politicians, at the centre of an ongoing bylaw controversy, are determined to fight against efforts by city council to exclude them from debate. After signing affidavits for a lawyer hoping to quash the bylaw -- which temporarily freezes development along a stretch of Richmond Street -- Coun. Roger Caranci and Controller Bud Polhill declared a conflict of interest over the issue.

But Monday, the pair will present to council the opinion of their lawyer, Christopher Williams, a noted municipal law expert, who doesn't consider them in conflict.

"Anything to do with the Richmond Street bylaw, we are not in conflict," Caranci said yesterday.

"We can be involved with the discussion and we should be allowed to discuss it."

Although they declared a conflict over the zoning issue in April, Caranci and Polhill say they reserved the right to retract it, which they hope to do Monday.

Williams, who has written extensively on the province's Municipal Act, declined comment yesterday.

The controversy has drawn attention to the contentious issue of closed council meetings and touches on the councillors' connections to development lawyer Alan Patton, who obtained sworn statements from the pair.

They said a council committee voted privately on the bylaw in January.

Under the Municipal Act, such votes held in closed sessions are not allowed.

Caranci and Polhill said they felt pressured into declaring a conflict of interest, but that doing so interferes with the civic duties for which they were elected.

Caranci said the two will ask council to cover their legal costs.

It's clear the pair aren't in conflict on the temporary zoning bylaw, Polhill contends, because they voted in favour of it.

"We supported it. We agree with the bylaw," he said. "We were asked (by Patton), 'Did we take a vote?' And I said we did . . . There was no further information given.

"We'd certainly like to be involved in the process. I got elected to make decisions."

But discussing legal issues involving Patton in front of two councillors who signed affidavits for him could be a "significant" conflict, said Coun. Joni Baechler.

She has disputed the Polhill and Caranci statements, but said she will listen to them "objectively."

"They have the right to present their case and I won't prejudge it before I hear their case."

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