03/03/2016 09:31 EST | Updated 03/04/2017 00:12 EST

Grand Forks mayor can't explain discrepancies in FOI document on conflict of interest

CBC has obtained freedom of information documents released from the city of Grand Forks, B.C., that contain discrepancies, including one that reveals what happened after the mayor was warned about his potential conflict of interest. 

Frank Konrad, did not recuse himself over his conflict of interest regarding the city's water meters for his first six months in office, even though FOI documents show his chief administrative officer brought it to his attention on his first day of office in 2014.

The city first released the FOI documents to a Grand Forks resident. CBC saw those documents in February 2016. A second copy of the documents was requested by CBC later that month, but contained a different version of a memo detailing a meeting on Konrad's first day in office on December 2, 2014.

Konrad says no changes were made to the documents and the City of Grand Forks says it sent CBC the only copy of documents it has on file.

The potential installation of water meters in Grand Forks was the main election issue in town during the 2014 campaign. Many residents opposed the idea because it would mean paying for the amount of water they used.

Konrad owns a utitlity company, Konrad Mechanical, that operates in Grand Forks.

When the City's lawyers determined in May 2015 that the mayor was in an indirect pecuniary conflict of interest over water meter discussions, he agreed to recuse himself from future meetings.

Conflict of interest?

Konrad told CBC he first learned about the potential conflict of interest on January 26, 2015, when it was raised at a city council meeting. But according to FOI documents, a city staff member brought up the issue on Konrad's first day in office, nearly two months earlier.

According to a memo, Konrad had asked to see the city's contract with Neptune, a plumbing company.

The memo says the acting chief administrative officer, Diane Heinrich, warned Konrad that due to proprietary information, "he could be in a potential conflict of interest if he looked at the full contract."

The mayor advised Heinrich that he was in no way in a conflict of interest situation and took the contract anyway, according to both versions of the memo. 

But the copy released to the CBC was missing the following line about Konrad taking the contract for review: "She returned with Neptunes contract and handed it to the Mayor, who took it."

When CBC first asked Konrad about the meeting and the contract, the mayor refused to comment and told the CBC to "drop it."

However, in a later interview, Konrad clarified that he had asked to see the water meter contract because of his background in the plumbing industry.

"Myself being in the industry, when I got into office because there was such a brouhaha and hoopla about it, I said I need to see this contract," he said.

"So basically, being a professional in that industry, I wanted to see if it was in order."

Legal opinion

But the mayor should have immediately sought legal advice if he was warned of a potential conflict of interest, according to an expert in municipal government.

"I would say is there any way I can get access to some good legal advice and then be very careful not to act on that issue, not to discuss it, not to be in council chambers when it is discussed," said George Cuff, a municipal consultant with 37 years' experience.

In January of 2015, the mayor voted against a motion to obtain a legal opinion on whether there were any conflicts regarding Konrad in his role as mayor and as the owner of a plumbing company. That motion was passed.

But Konrad had already participated in city council meetings where water meters were discussed, as shown in publicly available recordings of the meetings.  

Konrad confirmed that he did seek legal opinion eight weeks after his chief administrative officer brought the potential conflict of interest up in December 2014.

In May 2015, lawyers advised that the mayor was, in fact, in an indirect pecuniary conflict of interest.

Discrepancies in FOI documents

Governments are required to keep a copy of documents they send out in FOI request for the sake of accountability, said B.C's information and Privacy Association.

"If the requestor doesn't like what they get, or thinks that they should have got more, or disagrees with whatever redactions the public body made, we as requestors have a right to complain to the commissioner, and the commissioner's office gets to take a look at what went out," said Vincent Gogolek, head of B.C.'s Information and Privacy Association.

Konrad maintains that there is only one version of the document.

"To my knowledge there was only one document that we issued out. If you have two, then I don't know where the other one came from and you might have to check your sources on that one."