The village of Fort Simpson could run a by-election in the near future after Councillor Mike Rowe stepped down from his seat on Wednesday.
Rowe is at the centre of a conflict of interest argument. He did not recuse himself during a regular meeting of council in February as his father and boss, former council member Pat Rowe, presented a proposal for the family firm – PR Contracting – to service the village’s heavy equipment and other vehicles.
Instead, Cllr Rowe joined his father to help make the presentation.
In an April 9 special meeting – minutes were not made available – council went in-camera for more than an hour to discuss Cllr Rowe’s conflict of interest.
Council then directed the village’s lawyer to “apply to the Supreme Court … for a determination of the question of whether or not Cllr Rowe has contravened subsection 2(1) or (2) of the NWT Conflict of Interest Act.”
Cabin Radio wasn’t able to verify if the application has been submitted to territorial court by the time of publication.
The NWT’s legislation states a by-election must be held “as soon as is practicable” if the number of members on council drops below a certain point. Rowe’s resignation doesn’t yet put Fort Simpson in that position. Calls to Mayor Sean Whelly and senior administrator Darrell White regarding a possible by-election were not immediately returned.
Kirk Cameron, a former Whitehorse city councillor and Yukon deputy minister, said any council should have foreseen a conflict, as should Pat and Mike Rowe as past and present councillors themselves.
“Immediately, my antenna goes out that there’s a direct and an immediate family connection,” Cameron said.
“They would have to be extremely careful about how they do anything that’s not going to be perceived as being conflict. Because that’s just way too close for just-about any level to pass that smell test.”
Cameron said he recused himself a number of times in the past due to connections in the community while sitting as a council member.
“Not only did I recuse myself from the discussion and vote, but I actually left the room,” he said. “That’s a requirement in the bylaws; that you don’t even get to be in the room to hear the discussion that happens.”
Full agendas and minutes have not been kept current on the village website and were not immediately provided. NNSL, which first reported Rowe’s resignation, stated council voted against the contract proposal in a March meeting.
The Department of Municipal and Community Affairs states municipalities must keep meeting minutes and provide them for public inspection once adopted. “Typically, the last meeting minutes are reviewed at the next council meeting,” the department stated.
There is “no formal mechanism or repercussions” if minutes are not posted in a timely manner.
The department said Fort Simpson’s council was expected to meet next week “to evaluate the options on how best to fill the empty seat as per the governing legislation.”
Rowe told NNSL: “I think there were a lot of reasons that went into my resignation and I think that the path that the Village of Fort Simpson and council were taking was just not something I wanted my name to be a part of.
“I didn’t feel comfortable with the decisions they were making and I didn’t feel their decisions encompassed the best interest of the village.”