Fears of perceived bias prompted councillors to remove a seat for elected officials on the city’s subdivision and development appeal board Monday and appoint a member of the public in their place.
The seven-seat quasi-judicial board usually includes six members of the public and one sitting councillor. It meets every second Wednesday and hears development appeals relating to the Municipal Development Plan and land use bylaw.
Dana Popadynetz, currently the chair for the board, wrote a letter to council that Coun. Natalie Joly read during Monday’s meeting. A copy of that letter, provided to the Gazette by Popadynetz, notes he was writing as an individual rather than as a board representative.
Popadynetz said having a councillor on the board is a conflict of interest. The nature of the board means the councillor in question must adjudicate on the land use bylaw, which they are also responsible for developing with council.
“This would be likened to a judge ruling on law that (he or she) has written,” Popadynetz said.
“From a public perspective, how can the public be confident that the proceedings are unbiased when a politician is, again, adjudicating on the bylaws which they have approved?”
Joly currently sits on the board as a councillor and was also responsible for bringing Monday’s motion forward.
She said sitting on the board would be a learning experience for her but felt the board needs to be separate from council.
“I think taking council off this board is one step toward helping us take a step back and really concentrate on governance and on developing the policies rather than ruling on them,” she said.
Councillors voted unanimously on Monday to remove the council seat from the board. However, Coun. Sheena Hughes took issue with the idea that a councillor would be biased on the board.
“To make a claim that rulings in the past ‘x’ number of years … were biased because there was a council member on there is extremely insulting,” she said.
Hughes has previously sat on the board and said there’s value to both the board and to council for a councillor to sit on it.
“It’s beneficial to both systems,” she said.
Coun. Ray Watkins said the possibility of bias does exist and he wanted to see council follow in the footsteps of municipalities such as Edmonton, which removed council members from its subdivision and development board decades ago.
“We have a lot of good people who could sit on this board,” he said, referring to members of the public.
Mayor Cathy Heron said the subdivision and development appeal board differs from other boards and committees council members sit on, which are advisory in nature.
“I don’t want to put any one of my council members in an awkward position and force them to be recusing (themselves) from the subdivision appeal board,” she said.
“I want a full complement of decision makers at (the board) and if we have to recuse (ourselves) because it’s so close to a recent change in the land use bylaw or something contentious that’s very public, that’s not fair to our public that we don’t have a full complement.”