Why didn't Banff's elected officials publicly release the results of an independent investigation into serious allegations of wrongdoing against Mayor Karen Sorensen when they had a chance at the beginning of June?
We will never really know, as the content of the discussions were held in-camera and are confidential. But with a 5,300-word long letter being distributed on Banff doorsteps detailing the circumstances as they are seen by the complainants – Jamie MacVicar and Barry Kelly – it is clear that now council feels it is appropriate to share the report with the community.
Banff council voted Monday (Aug. 10) to release the results of the independent investigation.
We agree with Councillor Peter Poole who stated during the meeting that choosing to withhold this information from the community, even though the allegations had not been made public, was a mistake.
The community had a right to know about the circumstances and results of the investigation, even though there are privacy considerations at play.
The investigation found the allegations were worthy of investigation, which was worthy of sharing with the community at large.
The conclusions were different than those desired by the complainants, but they are worthy of transparency given that these serious matters of public concern.
Elected officials, their immediate families and senior civil servants, should expect that the subject matter of them doing their jobs is a public consideration. To value privacy in these situations over the fulsome disclosure on a serious matter to the public is also failing to trust the community to be able to assess the situation and come to its own conclusions.
It makes accusations of conflict of interest seem like they are something that should be hidden.
We would like to argue the opposite – that issues of conflict of interest should be openly talked about and explored.
When it comes to the conduct of elected officials and senior public members of administration at any level of government, it is important to not dismiss concerns about whether a set of circumstances are appropriate out of hand.
The truth will let out, but even if the facts of the situation find there is a conflict at play, it should be dealt with appropriately.
The issue comes up a lot in politics and is a particularly delicious fodder to one's political opponents. It is also a legitimate and serious concern that should be openly talked about in order to create a culture of disclosure.
Instead of treating conflict of interest as somehow indicative of corruption by default, we should understand that in communities of all sizes, elected officials and public servants will have them. Our lives intersect the lives of others in various ways – that does not mean these relationships are being used to advance personal agendas or achieve financial gain.
When they happen, we must be frank about how they affect a person's ability to vote or hold a position of authority.
But the appearance of a pecuniary conflict of interest and a legitimate one, as defined under the MGA, can be worlds apart.
We have yet to see in these circumstances, however, any substantial evidence to support the assertion that the independent investigation is flawed or was influenced by the fact its author Barbara McNeil knows the mayor.
It would appear that biggest criticism of McNeil's work is that she did not reach the conclusion the complainants wanted. But this should tell us a lot about this set of circumstances.
MacVicar and Kelly found some smoke and sometimes where there is smoke there is fire. It has been examined in detail and it turns out to be just a lot of hot air instead.
For all parities involved the situation was surely stressful and hard work was needed to reach a conclusion. But this was not a waste of time. These situations should be taken seriously and handled appropriately. That includes public disclosure to ensure transparency and accountability are maintained.