It’s easy to throw around the term conflict of interest, but is there any actual substance?
Last week, Barry Beardsell, a former councillor and self-appointed taxpayers’ watchdog, rose before current city council and blasted the 2017 budget process. Fair enough, but before he concluded, he called for Coun. Brian Quiring’s resignation because his architectural firm was hired to expand Kal Tire Place.
“I don’t say it with animosity. I say it with respect,” said Beardsell.
Beardsell then went on to question the city’s procurement process and staff selecting contractors.
“They had a meeting. There are no minutes or record of the meeting,” he said of staff identifying Quiring’s firm.
Now, we should probably provide some background.
First off, there should be no surprise to anyone that Quiring is an architect as he has been pursuing the profession in Vernon since 1993. His firm was involved in constructing Kal Tire Place and the Vernon Performing Arts Centre in the early 2000s, and his stamp is on many residential and commercial developments in the community.
His career didn’t seem to put off many voters as he was first elected to council in 2011 and he topped the polls in 2014.
With that in mind, let’s consider the latest suggestion of conflict of interest.
After a request for proposals process this spring, the city selected Quiring’s firm for the design and development management of the second arena at Kal Tire Place.
“Councillor Brian Quiring is part of the management team of MQN. Quiring has removed himself during all council discussions regarding the twinning of the facility in which he could have a conflict or perceived conflict of interest in the project,” stated a release from the city.
The concept of conflict of interest was tackled right from the get-go. Nothing was hidden.
And anyone who actually attends city council or regional district meetings these days will know that Quiring is often out of the room more than he is in. As soon as a development permit or another issue comes before the politicians that his firm is involved in, he declares a conflict and promptly vacates the room, only to return once the discussion is concluded.
But even if Quiring does everything he should to avoid a potential conflict, there will be some who suggest city staff approve tenders to Quiring’s firm because of who he is — one of their political masters. Obviously that could occur, but keep in mind that there are numerous provincial laws against such actions. Is a public servant, with a pretty good-paying job, going to risk all of that for someone that may be gone after the next election?
Now let’s consider the positives to having someone like Quiring on council.
Primarily, he firmly understands all aspects of development when an application comes before council because of his experience. That’s not to say that he always rubber-stamps what a developer puts forward because he doesn’t. Often, he is the most critical of a proposal and makes recommendations that could benefit the community at large.
In the case of the Kal Tire Place expansion, his firm knows the building inside and out, and they are one of the few in the Interior capable of handling such a project.
I don’t always agree with Quiring’s positions at council, but what I have always appreciated is his frankness and honesty, and particularly when it comes to how people may perceive his private business affairs.
Being a city councillor is not a full-time gig so they have day jobs. In the case of Quiring, he is an architect, and voters understood that when he was elected.
So unless someone has firm evidence that provincial conflict of interest legislation was breached, this is the end of the story.