Accepting gifts a potential minefield for city councillors
By John McDonald
Image Credit: Shutterstock
May 13, 2015 - 10:28 AM
KELOWNA - When is it acceptable for a Kelowna city councillor to accept a gift and when is it not? That is the question city staff are currently looking to clarify.
“We had a conversation about what constitutes a gift and what doesn’t and what the disclosure requirements are,” city clerk Stephen Fleming says.
Rules around accepting gifts are well established under the provincial Community Charter. A council member is not to directly or indirectly accept a fee, gift or personal benefit connected with the performance of their office.
The charter provides for three exceptions; a gift received as an 'incident of protocol or social obligations that normally accompany the responsibilities of office,' council remuneration and expenses, and political campaign contributions.
It’s the first one that concerns Fleming, who says the charter does not clearly define incident of protocol or social obligation and encourages individual councils to establish their own definitions, unique to their communities.
“That’s a big grey area throughout the province. There’s no case law on this,” Fleming says. "Council directed staff to come back with a policy that will define in Kelowna terms what an incident of protocol or social obligation is.”
Fleming uses the example of a bottle of wine given to the mayor or a councillor after giving a speech.
“That’s a gift and it would be kind of rude not to accept it, so that’s an example of something within the protocol where it’s probably okay to accept it, assuming it’s not some $5,000 bottle of rare cognac," he says.
Even under a Kelowna-centric policy interpretation, gifts valued at $250 or over (market value) must be declared and councillors must submit a detailed gift disclosure statement with Fleming’s office.
Even gifts under that value must be reported if the total value from one source exceeds $250 over 12 months, according to the charter. Disqualification from holding office could await any councillor who violates the gifting rules.
Fleming says there have not been any gift declarations by any city councillor in the last year and he can’t recall a councillor reporting a large gift during his time with the city.
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