“I don’t believe I’m in a conflict of interest,” said Lake Cowichan Mayor Rod Peters, when questioned Dec. 19 about his actions at the town council meeting the previous night.
Peters had been taken to task during the meeting’s question period by local resident David Ridley for not removing himself completely from the meeting.
“I don’t really want to finish this meeting on a sour note because I think you’re doing a good job, but Mr. Mayor there is a line called conflict of interest and you crossed it in a major way tonight,” Ridley said.
It all started when Peters placed an item about Lake Cowichan Gas ‘n’ Go on the agenda and then spoke about it himself.
“Lake Cowichan Gas ‘n’ Go is trying to put a gas bar at the old mini mall [at the south end of Neva Road where it crosses Cowichan Lake Road]. At the time we put it in, the owner, Wayne Proctor, and myself, and CAO Fernandez got together and decided what had to be done there to make it able to have it there. I had to myself pay to have the water line moved and to buy some property from the town, which cost approximately $50K. At the time, Mr. Fernandez said this is what you need…anyways, Gas ‘n’ Go is a franchise and they have certain things they do so you can recognize them. One of them is to have a canopy with a good sized blue stripe on it. Our town planner has come up with a whole bunch of stuff that he wants to change. He’s being quite adamant about it. I don’t know what the protocol but does [town planner] James [Van Hemert] have the authority to tell him what he can do or can’t do?”
CAO Joe Fernandez said, “He has the right to recommend.”
Peters said he had talked to the project manager and discovered that the planner has told the developer he has to purchase some more land “because the vehicles will be on town land when they are filling up with gas. This was not mentioned at the time. The town planner has been making it very difficult for months and months for another business to start up in this town. And we have a lot of that. I am saying we now have a business friendly town but I don’t think James’s recommendations are feasible. Wayne has done everything he can to cooperate and I think he should be allowed to have his Gas ‘n’ Go colours and I don’t see any reason why he should have to purchase more land at this time.”
Neither the planner nor the developer were at the meeting.
After an extended discussion about several aspects of what Peters perceived as the problem, both Coun. Tim McGonigle and Coun. Kristine Sandhu urged the Mayor to see that the developer met with the planner to talk over again what solutions might be found, and that it would be best if the developer himself were to state the case to council.
Sandhu asked to see some paperwork on the situation, rather than just hear a verbal report, and McGonigle said council should wait for staff recommendations, adding, “I don’t think it’s for us to micro-manage.”
Ridley took issue with Peters advocating for the development, after Peters’s own comments made it clear he has been involved financially in the deal.
“You should never have brought that up. I know you have information but you’re involved in a business deal, or you have been. The correct way to do it was to bring the Gas ‘n’ Go man in front of council to make a presentation. But anything like that, you need to recuse yourself. That sort of muddies the water considerably because you’re in communication with him and he’s got applications. No, no, no you should have recused yourself on that. I won’t say any more.”
Peters, however, was unrepentant when interviewed Wednesday.
“Long before any of this happened, when Wayne was putting it in, and I got a hold of Joe and I told him what we were going to do. We wanted to know exactly what to do so we wouldn’t have any hassles when we went to put it in. Then Joe turned it over to the town planner, to James. And James came up with all this stupid stuff. I’ve been fighting Joe and James on this for months so Wayne can get going on the gas bar. It’s not a conflict of interest. I’m just trying to get the facts out the way they were.”