Council Seeks Disqualification of Councillor Wright
Tuesday, January 14, 2020
Rocky View County Council has voted to apply to the Court of Queen’s Bench to have Samanntha Wright disqualified as a County councillor, following a legal opinion that she violated the pecuniary interest rules contained in the Municipal Government Act and should no longer serve as a councillor.
Under the Act, there are strict rules to follow when a councillor has a pecuniary interest in a matter before Council. “Pecuniary” means relating to money, and councillors must not be involved in any Council decision that may impact them financially.
Councillor Wright participated in a public hearing and Council discussions, and voted on a conceptual scheme and land use re-designation for the Bearspaw Heights development on January 8, 2019. She again participated in discussions and voted on land subdivision for the property on September 24, 2019. The councillor is an owner of land immediately adjacent to the Bearspaw Heights property.
Council decisions that are made regarding a property may have direct financial impacts on the value of adjacent land. A County legal opinion and a Municipal Affairs Interpretation Bulletin clearly indicate such adjacency is a pecuniary interest, meaning Councillor Wright should have recused herself from any discussions and decisions on the matter.
Section 172 of the Municipal Government Act requires any councillor with a pecuniary interest to:
- disclose the general nature of the pecuniary interest prior to any discussion of the matter;
- abstain from voting on any question relating to the matter;
- abstain from any discussion of the matter; and
- leave the room in which the meeting is being held until discussion and voting on the matter are concluded.
Violating Section 172 of the Municipal Government Act automatically disqualifies an individual from serving as a councillor and requires them to resign from office. Samanntha Wright has refused to resign over the matter, and Section 175 of the Act allows application to the courts for a judgement declaring the councillor to be disqualified and the Council seat to be vacant.
All councillors swear an Oath of Office to uphold the law, and the majority of Council believed they had no choice but to apply to the courts to have Ms. Wright removed from office.
There is currently no time frame for when the Court of Queen’s Bench will rule on the matter, but it is expected to take some months. In the interim, Ms. Wright will continue to serve as a Rocky View County councillor.
If the Court rules to remove Councillor Wright from office, Council will then discuss a possible by-election to elect a new representative from Division 8 (Bearspaw) for the remainder of the Council term. Ms. Wright would not be eligible to run in the by-election, but could again run for office in the October 2021 general municipal election.
Relevant ruling from Municipal Affairs Interpretation Bulletin 01/02
Example: “A councillor, along with his brothers, are landowners of a parcel of land adjacent to a parcel owned by a different landowner. The adjacent landowner wishes to subdivide and develop his parcel. The proposed development is contrary to existing planning bylaw criteria and the bylaws require amending to allow the proposal. Is the councillor in conflict for voting either for or against amending the bylaw?”
Ruling: “The councillor would have a pecuniary interest. The value of the land owned by the councillor and his brothers may be affected either positively or negatively by the adjacent subdivision and development. Accordingly, he may be financially affected and should declare his interest and abstain from voting. The pecuniary interest need not be certain. A potential interest is sufficient.”