Area G director involved in conflict of interest

  • Thu Jun 22nd, 2017 6:05pm
  • News

Elef Christensen Area G director

A conflict of interest over a grant handed out by a director at the Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen surfaced last week.

In 2016 Elef Christensen, the director for Area G (Rural Keremeos) handed out a community grant to a society where he serves as president.

The issue of community grants given out by rural area directors was part of a bigger discussion earlier in the meeting last Thursday on recreation.

Penticton Mayor Andrew Jakubeit asked if staff was looking into a way rural areas around the city could help pay for recreation facilities going forward. Jakubeit said close to 30 per cent of recreation users using ball parks, arenas and other facilities come from the surrounding rural communities.

Chair Karla Kozakevich said although residents in her area of Naramata aren’t directly taxed for recreational facilities in Penticton, the area does contribute through the community grant program to a variety of events in the city.

Penticton city councillor Helena Konanz asked how people know what grants rural directors give out as the process is not public. The grants are listed on the regional district website annually, but require a search to find them.

When the Keremeos Review looked into community grants given out it was found that Christensen had given $1,000 to the Hedley Cemetery Society in 2016. Christensen was and is currently the president of the society.

Although the dollar amount is not high, RDOS CAO Bill Newell said the giving of the grant to a society a director sits as president of was “definitely” a conflict of interest.

Christensen said he did not make the decision on the grant and had done nothing wrong. He claimed the finance department of the RDOS gave the approval.

“Anyone that applies, it goes through the finance department,” he said. “No, I don’t make decisions.”

The grants bylaw, which was updated in 2015, specifically states grants are the ‘sole discretion’ of the area director. Newell confirmed the decision as to what group and how much each would receive is the responsibility of each rural director.

Applications are received by the finance department and then given to the director. The whole board votes at budget time on the amount each area can allot to a grant-in-aid program but not the individual grants.

Kozakevich said she was unaware Christensen was in a position of conflict of interest and that staff would need to look into the matter to see what could be done.

“I’ve had groups in the past ask me to be part of their board and I tell them ‘Ok, I can do that but then you can’t ask us for any money,’” she said. “They don’t want me on the board.”

Jakubeit said it was disappointing to hear a conflict of interest has possibly taken place around the regional table and that perhaps policy should change on the issue.

“Municipal government (City of Penticton) is different. It’s all public. Here, they (individual directors) have the discretion.”

Now that the issue has been pointed out, the board could decide to file a conflict of interest with the courts or a private citizen has that option.

Kozakevich was not clear what, if any, direction might be taken against director Christensen.