Kamloops city councillor absolves himself of potential conflict of interest | iNFOnews | Thompson-Okanagan's News Source

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Kamloops city councillor absolves himself of potential conflict of interest

FILE PHOTO - Arjun Singh, property manager and Kamloops city councillor, is confident that there is no conflict of interest between votes regarding supportive housing within the city and his apartment's position hosting tenants subsidized by local non-profits.
July 13, 2021 - 7:00 AM

A Kamloops city councillor whose family business takes subsidized tenants from local non-profit agencies determined he is not in a conflict of interest before voting on a key motion regarding supportive housing and the services they offer.

Arjun Singh is the property manager for his family business, Sabar Investments, which owns, The Sands, an apartment complex with 78 units in Lower Sahali. Seven suites are currently subsidized through nonprofits like A Way Home Kamloops or Ask Wellness.

In a March 9 council meeting, he disclosed that relationship, but not before taking part in a lengthy council discussion over a notice of motion which would require supportive housing facilities to offer various wrap around services and 24/7 security. The motion was approved with help from his vote.

"I don't feel like I have any bias towards any social agencies I work with," Singh said to iNFOnews.ca. "The tenants we have from within the social sector are some of the least vulnerable."

Singh, who is also a recent president of the Union of B.C. Municipalities, says because his tenants are not highly vulnerable and don't require robust wrap-around services, his participation in a motion pertaining to supportive housing facilities was not a conflict of interest. Sabar Investments has continued this relationship with nonprofit organizations for years, due to decreasing vacancy rates in Kamloops.

He said Ask Wellness first approached Sabar to offer low-risk clients more independent living arrangements, but he could not specify exactly how long the arrangement has been ongoing.

After self-assessing his relationship with the nonprofit organizations and explaining to staff why he felt there was no conflict, he took part in the discussion and voted in favour of the motion.

Singh noted his relationship with the nonprofits to the rest of council in near the end of the council meeting, after the motion was approved.

"I had some inquiries about whether I was in a conflict of interest because of housing that my family provides. It's a very different demographic, and I did speak to (City of Kamloops Corporate Officer Natalie Garbay) and Mr. Mayor about it. I made the decision that I didn't have anything to gain or lose, pecuniary or otherwise, from the conversation," Singh said in the March 9, 2021, council meeting.

Coun. Dennis Walsh has recused himself from several votes in the past. He said in his view, councillors must guard against not just real conflicts of interest, but even the perception of a conflict of interest. Walsh, owner of The Vic, took part in a motion last year which originally approved patio extensions for downtown businesses. At the time, he believed The Vic was unable to have its patio extended.

When The Vic was able to add seven feet to its patio on Victoria Street this year, Walsh recused himself from all future discussions regarding patio extensions.

In Singh's case, although the motion may not have direct implications for Singh as property manager, financial implications are just one of three potential conflicts, Walsh said.

Coun. Sadie Hunter, who is executive director of A Way Home, left the room due to her relationship with the supportive housing organization.

If a councillor's participation in a vote could be perceived as being swayed because of a relationship, then the city can be legally liable. Singh's relationship with nonprofits may not be directly affected by the vote, but that sort of relationship could be perceived as influential in a decision or debate over supportive housing.

"The big thing is that you have to look at your own interests, public perception and the City's liability," Walsh said. "It's the responsibility of not just the councillor, but also administration to point (a conflict) out."

Councillors can consult city staff to gather a greater understanding of an issue prior to a council meeting, in order to better determine whether there is a conflict of interest, according to Garbay. In the end, it's entirely up to the councillor to decide whether any issues up for debate at council is, or could be perceived as, a conflict. If a topic arises that a council member previously declared as a conflict, staff will bring that to the councillor's attention.

"When it comes to conflicts of interest, it's up to (councillors) to get their own legal opinion on those issues," Garbay said.

While it's up to each councillor to determine whether there is a conflict, it's also their own liability at stake, Chief Administrative Officer David Trawin said.

"If they're found not to disclose, it does not fall on the City, it would fall on the councillor," Trawin said. "I guess I have to take perception in. A lot of it is based on public perception, but (councillors) are the ones that have to be comfortable with their decision."

Garbay, however, said that while liability falls largely on the councillor, if they are found to have failed to disclose a conflict, each conflict situation is judged on a case by case basis, so the city could be liable in some circumstances. That could, for example, mean bringing a motion back to council to vote again or even a potential lawsuit.

Although he did not recuse himself from this motion, Singh says he regularly leaves the room for discussions and votes pertaining to multi-family housing, due to his position as a property manager.

"I feel comfortable that I'm not in conflict. If I didn't have social service tenants, I could fill that building for more money," Singh said. "Working through the media saddens me. There's no intrigue here. There's no conspiracy here. People are always welcome to call me and talk this through."

To contact a reporter for this story, email Levi Landry or call 250-819-3723 or email the editor. You can also submit photos, videos or news tips to the newsroom and be entered to win a monthly prize draw.

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