Valemount Council denies legal fee pay back

Valemount Village Council
Valemount Village Council

By: Korie Marshall

A Valemount Councillor’s request for reimbursement of legal fees has been denied, but the mayor says she is not satisfied.

Councillor Peter Reimer requested reimbursement for his own legal fees after the Village received legal advice saying Reimer was in conflict of interest over an in-camera issue Council had been dealing with.

Reimer said in his letter to Council that the Village’s advice was based on incorrect information about the ownership of Underwriters Insurance Brokers, but he has not yet publically clarified the mis-information. In the letter, he says he was forced to protect his rights and to seek his own legal advice. His lawyer provided the opinion that he was not in conflict, and he says Council has seen his lawyer’s opinion. He asked for reimbursement for $1,682.94 in legal fees, and suggested each councillor should be afforded an annual budget to seek their own legal opinions.

Reimer also argued that the responsibility of deciding whether a councillor is in conflict of interest rests with the councillor themselves, no one else.

The issue arose from a closed meeting on April 14th, 2015, dealing with the issue of the sewer backup claims resulting from the Dogwood lift station failure in August and September 2014. A number of the claimant’s had purchased their insurance through Underwriters Insurance Brokers. The Village’s legal counsel, Don Lidstone, gave an opinion that Reimer’s involvement as “owner” of Underwriters Insurance Brokers, through which a number of the claimant’s had purchased their insurance, placed him in conflict of interest.

The topic of the meeting was redacted from his letter on last week’s agenda, but an apparent bug was found in the PDF software, which removed the redaction when the agenda page was printed.

During the June 9th meeting, Councillor Hollie Blanchette moved to decline the repayment, saying “Upmost respect for Councillor Reimer, but I cannot ask the taxpayers to pay for a legal opinion that he took upon himself.”

Councillor Owen Torgerson asked if there was an option to defer the issue until Councillor Reimer was present (he was not at the meeting) but CAO Anne Yanciw pointed out he’d have to recuse himself from the discussion anyway because it would be a direct conflict-of-interest.

“Could there be a venue where all of Council could discuss it with Councillor Reimer?” asked Mayor Jeannette Townsend. “I suppose this could always be brought back for consideration at a future date. Because I am not satisfied by having all of the information. I haven’t seen all of it. I have not seen the subsequent legal opinion saying that this legal opinion is not valid. We have an argument between two lawyers, two legal firms.”

“We have to put aside what the issue was about,” said Blanchette. Our legal advice came from our municipal lawyer, we paid for it. If I was to go out and get my own legal advice, I would expect to pay for it myself.”

Council voted to decline the repayment.