Pitt mayor defends insurance contract

Don MacLean says councillor vying for his seat just making political hay

Dr. Gary Simatos questions Mayor Don MacLean about a contract his business has with Pitt Meadows to insure its vehicle fleet at a council meeting on Tuesday.

Dr. Gary Simatos questions Mayor Don MacLean about a contract his business has with Pitt Meadows to insure its vehicle fleet at a council meeting on Tuesday.

Pitt Meadows Mayor Don MacLean is vigorously defending himself after facing questions from residents at a council meeting Tuesday about the disclosure of a contract his business signed with the city to insure its vehicle fleet.

MacLean’s business – Sharpe’s Agency Ltd. – won the latest contract to insure 32 municipal vehicles, including pickup trucks, backhoes, bobcats and fire engines, in 2009.

Since the contract totalled more than $25,000, this year is the first time the mayor’s business had to be identified in a city financial statement – to the surprise of several councillors, who claim they were unaware of the agreement.

“Given the rules that exist … I was surprised to learn that the City of Pitt Meadows was buying its vehicles insurance from your business,” Dr. Gary Simatos said Tuesday’s council meeting.

“Can you help me understand how the City of Pitt Meadows and yourself arrived at this arrangement?”

Svetla Taneva told council the results of the last election would have been different if residents had known about MacLean’s insurance contract.

Director of corporate services Laurie Darcus has borne the blame for failing to inform MacLean about a section in the B.C. Community Charter that requires council members to disclose any contracts they enter into with the city “as soon as reasonably practicable at a council meeting that is open to the public.”

Section 168 also requires any contracts with council members to be listed in a report, that includes a general description of their nature, at least once a year.

As well, civic politicians take an oath of office that requires them to disclose any direct or indirect pecuniary interests.

The current contract with Sharpe’s Insurance, for $26,730, expires in 2012.

Director of finance Dean Rear also admitted he was unaware of those sections of the Community Charter.

As a result, he will be amending the city’s financial statement for 2010 before they are filed with the province.

MacLean stresses he did nothing wrong. The questions on Tuesday, he noted, came from residents of Wildwood Crescent, “who all have a personal issue” with his handling of their complaints about the Golden Ears Bridge.

“There has been no wrong doing by any party,” MacLean said after the meeting.

“I am not perfect. I did nothing wrong. End of story. I am really upset that staff have been called to some type of account for failing to notice one part of the charter.”

MacLean believes the questions about his contract with the city – first raised by Coun. Bruce Bell, Tracy Miyashita and Deb Walters (who will be vying for the mayor’s chair in November’s civic election) – are politically driven.

“Is $26,000 enough money for me to risk 21 years of service to the municipality?” said MacLean. “This is what my epithet will read. Not what I have done for 21 years, but something a member of council decided to make political hay over. It was a set up from the beginning. They have to live with what they have done to my reputation.”

MacLean claims councillors, both current and former, were well aware of his contract to insure the vehicle fleet.

Sharpe’s Agency, which was owned by former mayor Danny Sharpe before, has done business with the city since 1974.

In the past, the contract alternated between Sharpe’s and Johnston Meier Insurance. But in 2009, the city decided to formalize the way it obtained insurance by inviting proposals.

Three agencies responded to the request for proposals, including Sharpe’s, Johnston Meier and Meier & Company Insurance.

A staff committee picked the best bidder according to set criteria that included experience, the availability of on-site service, a willingness to provide short-term credit and a familiarity with the city’s vehicle fleet.

Coun. Gwen O’Connell said she knew of the arrangement that alternated insurance between Sharpe’s and Johnston Meier, but had no knowledge about Sharpe’s winning the contract when it was put to tender.

Former councillor Janice Elkerton had no recollection of the Sharpe’s contract and noted it isn’t something she would forget.

Randy Cooke, who served three terms on council with MacLean, also knew nothing about the insurance contract, but thinks it isn’t an issue.

“I have always known Don to be by the book. Sharpe’s Agency has a long history in the community. I don’t think he would have been awarded the contract just because he is mayor,” Cooke said.

Coun. John Becker was aware of the contract and wants the issue put to rest.

“It’s a tempest in a teapot. The fact that Pitt Meadows is a small teapot, makes it look important,” he said.

“Let’s take a chill pill and work on something important. This is just divisive.”

• See related editorial: “Taking the fall