A Fort Simpson councillor has resigned amid a conflict of interest investigation.
Darrell White, the village’s senior administrative officer, confirmed that two-term councillor Michael Rowe tendered his resignation Wednesday, weeks after council voted to start conflict of interest proceedings against him.
Council voted on April 9 for the town’s lawyer to file a motion to the Supreme Court to figure out whether councillor Rowe violated Section 2 of the N.W.T Conflict of Interest Act.
The law also suggests that any council member with a conflict of interest should excuse themselves from discussion or votes.
The resolution addresses the “actions” of councillor Rowe at a February 10 meeting of council but does not go into detail on what that behaviour was.
Rowe told CBC he thought about resigning for “a couple of months” before the conflict of interest action started.
“I thought my time could better be spent with family,” he said in an interview. “I tried to stick it out as long as I could, but it was just going in a way that I couldn’t be apart of.”
Vehicle maintenance package offered to councillors
Barely three minutes into at February 10 meeting, Rowe moved from his council seat to join his father, Pat Rowe, at the head of the table to represent their automotive company, P.R. Contracting Ltd.
Michael Rowe explained in the meeting that he had recently taken over as P.R. Contracting’s operations manager.
He then details the services that the company offers, including a notification system that would let the village know when their vehicles need to be serviced, before offering council a “full maintenance package” for their vehicles if they decide to work with P.R. Contracting.
“I just want to know from the village of Fort Simpson, if there is any interest in working with P.R. Contracting and can we set this up?” he asked council.
“All it does is it save you guys money.”
‘I find it a bit of a slap in the face’
Councillors asked during the meeting if the village had their own experts that could look into the quality of their vehicles.
White said the town will be receiving territorial asset management software in the near future that would track any problems with their fleet, and that more information would be available at a private meeting.
Rowe then asked for an invitation to this meeting, “so I can bring my, our program,” to the table.
“I find it a bit of a slap in the face,” Rowe said, referencing the council’s decision to hold a private meeting.
“I don’t understand what the issue is. We have a licensed shop with combined 70 years of service … and we have to wait a few weeks for a committee meeting to see if we’ll get any work out of it?”
Mayor Sean Whelly suggested in the meeting that “there’s nothing wrong” with the Rowes’ offer, and that the village will reach out ahead of their March 9 meeting with the results of an internal assessment.
Whelly did not respond to an interview request.
P.R Contracting’s offer is not listed as an item of business on the March 9 council agenda. However, it does include a “legal matters” in-camera session.
‘I saw something that was being done wrong’
Speaking to CBC, Rowe said he does not see any conflict of interest issues with his presentation at the meeting.
“In a town of 1,200 people, you’re going to be involved in the community,” Rowe said. “I saw something that was being done wrong, I took steps to try and rectify it, and this is what happened.”
P.R Contracting’s advocacy to fix the village’s vehicle fleet pre-dates his election to council, Rowe said.
At every meeting of council, Rowe continued, there are issues brought up by members of the community that often go ignored by the village’s leadership. That is what led to his resignation, he maintained.
“We’re not fixing the problems, we’re just moving on and pretending that it’s business as usual. That’s not right,” he said.
Special council meeting to discuss how to fill Rowe’s seat
The resolution to start conflict of interest proceedings against Rowe was passed April 9 in a 5-3 vote.
Councillor Rowe was permitted to vote against the resolution.
Under the N.W.T Conflict of Interest Act, the village’s legal team had up to three months to file the necessary paperwork.
The Act also says that legal action cannot be taken against a council member that does not hold office whenever the paperwork is filed — meaning the village’s legal action could be rendered void by Rowe’s resignation.
Council will be holding a special meeting on Monday April 27 to discuss next steps, including how to fill Rowe’s council seat.
Rowe said he hopes his replacement will continue to “hold the village accountable.”