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TransLink board keeps land holdings secret

TransLink directors are now disclosing all of their real estate holdings to guard against potential conflicts of interest. But those land ownership disclosures will not be made public.

“This is confidential information,” TransLink spokesman Ken Hardie said, refusing a Black Press request for the disclosures. “This is private.”

Instead, the information is being held by TransLink’s corporate secretary and action will only be taken if senior staff decide a director’s holdings may conflict with decisions being contemplated by the board.

Information could be withheld and a director could be barred from deliberating or voting on certain issues. In some instances, a director can be required to eliminate a conflict or else resign.

TransLink can also refer such situations to its independent conduct review advisor for more advice on how to proceed.

The “trust us” approach to watching for conflicts is wrong, according to political analyst David Schreck.

“They have no right to keep their potential conflicts of interest secret,” he said. “You and I own that corporation. We should know.”

TransLink’s decisions are much more likely than those of other public bodies to affect land values, he added.

“If you own property in the Lower Mainland and you’re making transportation decisions there’s a strong likelihood that the value of your property is going to be affected.”

Hardie said the additional disclosure rules voluntarily adopted by TransLink’s board go considerably farther than the minimum requirements that had been spelled out in new TransLink governing legislation passed by the provincial government.

The legislated requirements don’t require directors to disclose land holdings, but focus instead on directors’ ownership or stake in transportation-related companies that might do business with TransLink or be affected by its actions.

Hardie said the disclosures so far haven’t led to any potential conflict requiring action.

But he said the board recognized the possibility and felt it was necessary to have a detailed policy and expanded disclosures.

“They’re business people, so there’s all kinds of situations that could arise,” he said. “Now if something looks like it’s going to arise it can be nipped in the bud.”

Scenarios requiring action might include decisions on building new rapid transit lines on corridors where a director owns property.

Hardie also noted situations can change unexpectedly. A director might own a stake in a company unrelated to TransLink, but it could acquire or merge with another firm that does, suddenly creating a conflict.

TransLink Board chair Dale Parker noted the new directors were picked largely because of their experience in large infrastructure projects and real estate development –

“We have taken great pains to establish a model that can stand as ‘good governance’ in the face of critical review,” he said.

Financial and land holding disclosures of the mayors and councillors who previously served on the TransLink board were publicly available. The new appointed directors took over in January.

TransLink has also so far refused to release voting records of the new board.

The board’s code of conduct is included within a 200-page board operations manual that also lays out various other policies and procedures.

Among the expectations are that directors attend at least 80 per cent of meetings.

It also says board or committee attendance by phone is “strongly discouraged” and must be authorized by the chair.

jnagel@surreyleader.com

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