Is it time to impose restrictions on departing members of senior City staff in Vancouver? Other jurisdictions have rules in place to prevent employees from immediately starting employment with firms that had significant business dealings with the municipality. This is done to avoid the appearance of conflict of interest when public sector employees go through the revolving door into the private sector.
A number of changes happened during the NHL off-season. While Vancouverites may have closely followed the trades and free agent signings by the Canucks, a very interesting development happened south of the border.
The City of Glendale is the home of the Arizona Coyotes. The hockey franchise and the municipality were at in impasse over a long-term lease deal for Jobing Arena. A 15-year, $225 million USD deal was nixed by Glendale City Council in June of 2015. This move was justified because one of the City attorneys who had negotiated the original deal in 2013 went to work for the Arizona Coyotes a few months after the deal was concluded. Conflict of interest provisions were cited in the decision. Further details on this case can be found in the following articles:
- Glendale council votes to kill Coyotes deal (AZcentral.com, June 11, 2015)
- Glendale attorney brought up Arizona Coyotes counsel conflict concern in March (Phoenix Business Journal, June 23, 2015)
The following excerpt from the AzCentral piece sums up the issue at hand: “City Attorney Michael Bailey explained that the conflict-of-interest statute allows a city to terminate a contract within three years of it being signed if a person who was significantly involved in drafting or creating the contract for the city later becomes an agent or employee of the other party of the contract.” …. “The Coyotes hired Tindall on Aug. 20, about seven weeks after Glendale approved the Coyotes deal.”
To the best of our knowledge, there are no rules at in Vancouver that would limit senior employees from working at private sector corporations that have had significant business dealings with the City. The Vancouver Courier reported that the City’s former police chief was retained by the Aquilini Investment Group, a local real estate developer (Aquilini hires former VPD chief Chu, Mike Howell, July 31, 2015). Mr. Chu was also recently appointed to the TransLink Board (The Province, Former VPD chief Jim Chu named to TransLink board, August 20, 2015).
Another matter that raised a few eyebrows was the employment of former B.C. Lotteries Chief Michael Graydon by Paragon Gaming. Unlike the City of Vancouver, the Province at least took the time to investigate the potential conflict of interest:
- Former B.C. Lotto CEO Michael Graydon was in conflict of interest, CBC News, by Mike Laanela, July 10, 2014
- Ex-B.C. Lottery CEO’s new role raises conflict of interest concerns, The Globe and Mail, Wendy Stueck, Feb 7, 2014
Vancouver also does not have a lobbyist registry. It’s worth noting that senior employees have developed extensive networks over the years. There is a potential that they know who to call for favours. Some of the former employees have been lobbied themselves and know the tricks of trade. It might be impossible to tell if a past senior City employee becomes a lobbyist for a private company.
In theory, a Planning Chief, Senior Manager or Transportation Czar could go directly into the employment of a private company that has business dealings with the City. It’s perfectly “legal”, albeit not exactly ethical.
There is nothing preventing the City from having requirements that departing employees have a “cool off” period of 2-3 years (this could be a part of an employment contract). During a “cool off” period, former employees couldn’t work for any entity that might be perceived to have a conflict of interest with the City. The “revolving door” between public and private sectors needs to be closed in Vancouver.