Concerned Citizen Acquires Legal Opinion on Conflict of Issue Situation

Well, it appears that the conflict of issue situation within SD40 just won’t quit. Recently, Patrick O’Connor, who ran as a Voice trustee candidate in the 2008 election, received a legal opinion on whether Trustee Watt is in a conflict of interest situation in relation to the interests of her employer (and major campaign funder) CUPE BC.

Mr. O’Connor has started New Westminster’s latest blog to, it would seem, share this issue and all the information received with the public.

One can see Mr. O’Connor’s covering email to John Woudzia at:

http://focusnewwest.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/covering-email1.pdf

The written legal opinion can be found at: http://focusnewwest.files.wordpress.com/2011/02/opinion-letter.pdf

Additionally, a “tweet” is available on Twitter that people can use to point their friends to the documents online… Go to @focusnewwest on the Twitter website.

Here’s a link to the blog’s home page: http://focusnewwest.wordpress.com/

This issue was also covered recently by the City Caucus blog as well as the education reporter of the Vancouver Sun and our own local media.

CityCaucus.com: http://www.citycaucus.com/2011/02/legal-opinion-on-conflict-of-interest-causing-heartache

Janet Steffenhagen’s blog on the Sun’s website: http://communities.canada.com/vancouversun/blogs/reportcard/archive/2011/02/04/conflict-of-interest-allegations-in-new-westminster.aspx

NewsLeader: http://www.bclocalnews.com/greater_vancouver/newwestminsternewsleader/news/115138769.html

Record: http://www.royalcityrecord.com/Trustee+says+legal+opinion+political+attack/4228323/story.html

8 thoughts on “Concerned Citizen Acquires Legal Opinion on Conflict of Issue Situation

  1. I look forward to O’connor committing the resources necessary to take this issue to the SCoBC, that outa be about 200 dollars to file a claim right ?

    Or does O’connor mean the cost associated with hiring legal representation to continue arguing his contentions ? Gee, that one is going to add up !

  2. Word is spreading that Ms. Watt got her own legal opin ion and is telling people that it suppoerts her position that she is not in conflict. If that is so, let’s see the opinion, also let us see the basis for the opinion, in other words, show the information that Watt told the lawyer.
    Also, why did Watts get her own lawywr? Why did she not use legal opinion counsel provided by the School Board? Very strange.

  3. The column in the News Leader says it all. Any fair-minded person would see the conflict of interest Watt is in.

    COLUMN: What would a fair-minded person think?

    By Chris Bryan – New Westminster News Leader
    Published: February 16, 2011 11:00 AM
    Updated: February 16, 2011 11:19 AM

    New West school trustee Lori Watt and fellow resident Patrick O’Connor have recently updated the old “my dad is better than your dad” schoolyard taunt.

    The only difference is they’re comparing lawyers.

    If you’ve been following this issue, you’ll know that O’Connor came out a few weeks ago with a legal opinion saying trustee Watt shouldn’t be voting on certain issues at school board meetings.

    Instead, she should remove herself from debate on issues that dovetail with the interests of her employer.

    Watt works for the political arm of CUPE BC, as the confidential secretary to president Barry O’Neill. CUPE BC, through its locals, represents many of the people employed by the New Westminster School District. It also represents about 170 locals across B.C.

    Last week, Watt got her own legal advice saying no conflict exists.

    So one can assume Watt will continue to vote on matters such as whether the school district should ban bottled water in schools, an issue that CUPE BC has spearheaded in the region.

    She is also clear to vote on issues that will affect school district support staff who belong to a CUPE local, for instance.

    It’s an interesting situation. At night, as a school trustee, she represents the employer, SD40. And by day at CUPE, she works for the organization that fights for the interests of the employees.

    Watt’s legal opinion notes that she is a “relatively low level” employee for CUPE, not someone with her hands on the levers of power. It also points out she is not directly involved in any bargaining. And Watt herself has said that she has never been asked to vote a certain way on an issue, nor have any school district issues come up for discussion.

    A few things are known, of course. For one, Watt is a three-term trustee who has dedicated many hours of her life to public service.

    What’s also known is that $4,697.44 of the $4,822.44 she spent getting elected in 2008 came from a CUPE group. The majority, $3,000, came from CUPE BC itself.

    And, according to O’Connor, her claim that she’s never been asked to vote a certain way by her employer rings false.

    He points to a 2008 article on CUPE BC’s website where it says that CUPE BC’s political action committee screened potential school board candidates by asking “his or her position on P3s, contracting out, pay equity, and other important issues. If the candidates don’t know where they stand… CUPE has lots of information to help them.”

    That’s not unusual for candidates seeking union endorsement. CUPE wants to ensure they represent CUPE values. That’s fine.

    But it gets muddy fast.

    As an employee, she works for CUPE. As a trustee, Watt is endorsed by CUPE. And she’s also in a position to decide the fate of CUPE employees.

    The question is: How free is she to represent the employer’s (read SD40) interest?
    The lawyers can say what they want.

    Ultimately, so too may the Supreme Court of B.C., if O’Connor chooses to take it that far.

    But what really matters is public opinion.

    Conflict of interest legislation is about maintaining the public’s faith in the politicians who serve them, that they are free of undue influence.

    And the true test is this: What would an average, fair-minded person think when given the facts about Watt’s situation?

    To me it’s clear. In some cases, Watt should stand aside.

    editor@newwestnewsleader.com

  4. This is just the tip of the DLC (District Labour Council) iceberg. Mayor and Council is and has been in the same boat as the School Board for many years. I hope Chris Bryan takes a look at that relationship with city hall in future editorials.
    The voting public needs to be aware of these backroom people in order to have a true and free democracy in New Westminster and not the current socialist agenda. Many have no idea how much this is costing the taxpayers now and for the foreseeable future, its not wright! Bring on the Voice alternatives.

  5. Dead on ‘No Joke’,
    its been many years in the making and it’s time the citizens know the truth about conflict of interest in this city.
    CUPE supports an ever increasing slate which has partially dominated the political scene in New West. With the last sucessful election of the fourth CUPE supported councilor, Council has it’s hands tied with decisions made by this group of the four CUPE supported councilors.(4-3) Taxpayers not only pay the 2nd highest taxes in the Metro Van area, but can expect to escalate to the highest.
    There are so many areas needing attention. What this city needs is a council prepared to support sound management of city funds in support of the taxpayer.

    Conflict on Council? Lets ask why a CUPE councilor sits on the negotiating committee for wage increases to CUPE? Lets ask why Increases granted to CUPE apply to managemenbt salaries as well? We have gone through a 2 year recession while they have received 8% increases even on $150,000 + salaries. This is not sustainable!!!

    I am a founding director of Voice New Westminster and am a member to date. We have been branded as negative, however, the issues are what is negative. We are here to bring issues to the attention of citizens who care. We offer an alternate Voice to the current unbalanced council.

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