Fort McMurray councillor retains seat despite conflict of interest

The Alberta Court of Queen’s Bench has ruled a Fort McMurray councillor can keep her seat despite being involved in a case of conflict-of-interest.

Justice Jane Fagnan handed down the ruling Friday afternoon at the Fort McMurray courthouse to the relief of Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo Coun. Krista Balsom and her supporters.

“It’s been a challenging time,” Balsom said outside the courthouse. “I just look forward to carrying on and doing the best work for our region.”

An independent municipal investigation found Balsom committed a pecuniary conflict of interest.

In other words, Balsom participated in votes as a councillor in which she stood to gain financially, a violation of the Municipal Government Act which states councillors must excuse themselves from discussions and decisions on matters with which they stand to benefit.

Balsom’s lawyer acknowledged these and other facts in court Friday, but said the conflict wasn’t intentional and didn’t warrant dismissal. And, her lawyer argued, Balsom went out of her way to avoid the conflict.

The judge acknowledged this in her ruling. 

‘Absence of complete frankness’

The municipality’s lawyer, Derek King, with the Calgary-based firm Brownlee LLP, said Balsom sought legal advice from Wood Buffalo’s former lawyer about whether she could participate in the 2018 budget allocations.

The lawyer determined Balsom was free to vote without violating the Municipal Government Act.

But, King said, Balsom omitted key details about her contracts with a number of community organizations that would receive municipal funding.

Had the lawyer been aware of the existence of those contracts, the advice given would have been different, King argued.

“There was an absence of complete frankness,” he said.

‘Reputation has been smeared’

Balsom’s two lawyers disagreed, saying she outlined in emails with the municipality instances where she had several contracts with community organizations that receive funding.

But the municipality’s lawyer neglected to ask for details about those, Suzanne Manning told the court.

Manning said her client acknowledges she was in conflict but at the time she believed she was acting in good faith.  

Balsom sought multiple meetings with the lawyer to discuss a possible conflict, demonstrating she did not intend violate the rules, Manning said.

“Balsom’s reputation has been smeared in the community,” Manning said. “She believed she was taking proactive steps.”

Wood Buffalo municipal council asked Krista Balsom to resign in June over the conflict of interest.

Balsom refused and an application was made in the Court of Queen’s Bench to determine whether she should be removed.

Connect with David Thurton, CBC’s Fort McMurray correspondent, on FacebookTwitterLinkedIn or email him at david.thurton@cbc.ca 





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Sherwood Park

Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area.[7] It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary,[8] generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road).[9] Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.[9]

Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016,[6] Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.

History

Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
Geography

The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton.[8] The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.

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