Conflict of interest or concerned community member?

OHSWEKEN – Several elected councillors have concerns with an attempt being made to make changes to the election code before the next election takes place, stating that the individual involved is in direct conflict-of-interest (COF) with her position.

Chief Electoral Officer Dorothy Russell-Patterson came to a Six Nations Elected Council meeting on July 19 and brought it to council’s attention that community members have been asking that changes be made within the election code. Since then, at council’s suggestion, she has held two meetings regarding the changes.

“Being that you are the election officer, it’s not your role to be approaching council on your behalf to make changes,” said Councillor Bob Johnson at the council meeting in July. He told Russell-Patterson to “be careful” as she moves forward and has voiced repeatedly that he doesn’t see how Russell-Patterson’s recent actions can be seen as anything other than a COF.

Russell-Patterson was asked to attend last night’s council meeting on August 9 to answer some questions that had since come forward and said that she is far from being in a COF by suggesting proposed changes to the code.

“What do I have to gain?” she asked, explaining that a conflict of interest would implies self-gain and that she is not trying to gain anything; she is simply bringing forward information she has heard from community members over the past several years.

Councillor Hazel Johnson, for her own piece of mind asked Russell-Patterson if there was ever a set of rules and regulations laid out for her regarding a COF when she was hired for her position.

“Do you have a listing of activities that you’re not allowed to do, because I don’t know,” said Johnson. “I’m asking for clarification myself.”

Russell-Patterson said that there is terms of reference regarding the position, which involves a contract stating that the control and conduct of an election is entirely the responsibility of the chief electoral officer, but there is no reference to a COF on her part of elected council’s.

Several different resolutions were presented from council members, but most were withdrawn.

One was that Russell-Patterson be asked to stop moving forward with her community meetings and ideas to suggest change. It was also mentioned that the talks for change be postponed to a later date to give the community more time to process the information and also it was suggested Russell-Patterson submit her resignation. If Russell-Patterson resigned from the role of chief electoral officer, she would be free to petition changes to the election code as a community member with zero likelihood of a inciting a COF.

The only resolution passed at Russell-Patterson’s meeting with elected council was Councillor Helen Miller’s; that council seek legal advice regarding Russell-Patterson’s position and recent actions.

Many of the concerns from council were that the proper steps had not been taking regarding the changes. It was brought to their attention that the only two ways to initiate change to the code is by either a petition signed by the community or that a resolution be passed by council stating that changes can be discussed — neither have been completed by Russell-Patterson at this point.

Council was not prepared to pass that resolution, so Elected Chief Ava Hill suggested to Russell-Patterson that she find someone to focus on getting a petition signed — emphasizing that for the optic’s sake that someone else be take the lead.

“The process is that amendments come about by a petition,” said Hill.

Russell-Patterson left last night confident that she is not infringing upon a COF and challenged Councillor Bob Johnson to find out where she has supposedly broken any rules.

“It is my right and responsibility as a community member,” said Russell-Patterson. “I dare you and challenge you to find evidence of the conflict of interest that you suspect.”

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