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Concern raised over mayor's vote on Terminal Trench project

A conflict of interest complaint has been filed against Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan regarding a vote he participated in that helped to secure provincial funding for the Downtown Nanaimo Business Improvement Association and its efforts to conduct an environmental assessment of the Terminal Trench.

Ruttan owns the building at 300 Terminal Ave., which is part of a two-kilometre stretch of corridor to be considered for the environmental assessment.

The DNBIA secured more than $200,000 to complete the study, which will include drilling on various land parcels to determine how polluted the ground is.

The complaint stems from an 8-1 vote in October by council that Ruttan participated in to forward funds to the DNBIA so it could meet a tight deadline and assure the organization the provincial money would be delivered. Only Coun. Jim Kipp was opposed.

The DNBIA had requested funding be forwarded by the city so it could begin work immediately on the assessment due to a March 2013 deadline set by the province. By agreeing to forward the funds, as well as an $8,000 balance to round off the city's funding commitment to the DNBIA for 2013, the environmental assessment of the Terminal Trench would be assured.

Ruttan said he was well aware of the potential conflict of interest and had removed himself from previous council discussions on the topic, going so far as to not signing an agreement to allow drilling on his property or to be made aware of any assessment results.

"Our first discussions were site specific in permitting the DNBIA to go ahead and look for contamination along Nicol Street and Terminal Avenue, and I felt I was in conflict on that one and so I removed myself from the room and did not vote on the issue," said Ruttan. "The issue I did vote on was different in my mind. I voted with the majority to allow for that funding because it wasn't site specific, and I was voting to preserve the grant that they had been approved for by the provincial government."

If the DNBIA's request had been turned down by council, it stood to lose the funding from the province for the project.

"In retrospect I don't believe I was ever in conflict and I really never thought it would be questioned," added Ruttan.

The Local Government Act says it is up to elected officials to make the determination whether or not they are in conflict on a council vote.

Ruttan is not in a position to benefit financially from voting on the motion.

Al Kenning, city manager, said the complaint was received by a member of the public.

The environmental assessment on the properties in the corridor will allow the city to request relaxations on the clean-up levels of the properties along the stretch of road which will make it easier for the properties to be redeveloped in the future.

A city report says that despite the conflict of interest concern brought forward, the resolution that passed to allow the funding be forwarded to the DNBIA was adopted appropriately because Ruttan's participation in the vote did not impact the outcome, and there is no evidence he influenced other members of council to vote in favour of the motion.

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