Nanaimo councillor says legal opinion clears him of conflict of interest

NANAIMO – Coun. Gord Fuller voted on tax breaks for charities with which he is involved.

Coun. Gord Fuller, tied to two organizations receiving tax exemptions next year, said he’s quite sure he’s not in conflict of interest and had no intention of stepping out of the vote last week.

City council approved the final reading of a permissive tax exemption bylaw that will see more than 100 properties get a tax break next year, but not before Mayor Bill McKay asked councillors to speak up if they believed they were in a conflict of interest.

Fuller answered the call, but he said it’s because he’s quite sure he’s not in a conflict of interest.

The City of Nanaimo’s grants advisory committee does a comprehensive review of organizations receiving permissive tax exemptions every three years, with the last one done in 2014, and makes recommendations to council, a city report shows. But new applications and the need to address properties no longer needing permissive tax exemptions also comes up each year, when Nanaimo city council discusses and votes on a permissive tax exemption bylaw.

Fuller, chairman of the Nanaimo 7-10 Club, a non-profit that will get a permissive tax exemption of $3,135 next year, and an employee of Nanaimo Youth Services Association, which receives a more than $10,000 exemption, voted for the first three readings of the bylaw last month as acting mayor. He said shortly after a Facebook group talked about a judicial review and taking him to court.

He read out a legal opinion at a council meeting last week that he said he paid for himself and that stated he doesn’t have a direct or indirect personal pecuniary interest, or any other interest in the subject matter of the bylaw that would require him to formally declare a conflict.

He also said the bylaw allows council to give tax exemptions, but is not about the tax exemptions themselves to individual organizations and there’s no reason for him to step out. He welcomed any challenges, pointing out the means to do it are in the Community Charter.

“I would really welcome it because there may be other communities where this is happening and other people that are getting lambasted and challenged and it needs to stop,” he said.

Council meeting minutes show Fuller had also voted on the first three readings of the tax exemption bylaw last year, before declaring a conflict at the vote for adoption.

Fuller told the News Bulletin he didn’t think he was in conflict, but didn’t want to spend city money to find out and this year, he voted on the first three readings based on informal opinions that he wasn’t in conflict.

A legal opinion confirmed he was right, he said.

Next year, when the city does it’s three-year comprehensive review of organizations’ applications for permissive tax exemptions, Fuller said he plans to step out.

“It’s the perception,” he said.