There is no conflict: Coun. Surinderpal Rathor

The complainant in an alleged conflict of interest involving Coun. Surinderpal Rathor is unhappy with the direction the City has taken.

The complainant in an alleged conflict of interest involving Coun. Surinderpal Rathor is unhappy with the direction the City has taken.

In May, at an in-camera meeting, council agreed on a resolution that stated council provide Rathor with an opportunity to make a written public statement in response to a formal complaint of conflict of interest by the complainant, Ryan McDonald, that centred on the Best Western Hotel development in Williams Lake. The resolution further stated that if Rathor chose not to make a public statement in a “timely manner” he would be subject to an investigation into the allegations.

In early July, the item was brought forward to an open council meeting where Rathor made a public statement denying any wrongdoing and stating: “I wish to make it perfectly clear that I deny ever having a direct or indirect involvement in that project of the Best Western Hotel. I have no personal stake, direct or indirect in that project and my only involvement was helping out a developer as any other employee of the City or elected official in the City would do to assist an investor in our community to move their project ahead.”

The allegation stems from a complaint by McDonald, a framing contractor hired to work on the Best Western building project by property owner Paul Sangha.

In a letter to council, outlining his complaint McDonald writes, “… I have plausible reason to believe that your council member referred to above (Rathor) may have some personal interest in the above mentioned project.” In the same letter, McDonald says he bases the assertion on the property owner, in conversation with a foreman, referring to Rathor as “his partner.” McDonald further states that the owner “strongly persuaded” McDonald and his business associate to allow the council member to be present as an active participant in contract negotiations.

Rathor denies the allegations and says there is no conflict of interest. He says he has known Sangha since 2009 and that their relationship included him assisting Sangha successfully pursue his building project in the community, as Rathor says he would have with any other developer seeking to build in Williams Lake.

“In 2010 the biggest development to happen in Williams Lake was the Best Western Hotel so I am thankful to him,” Rathor said.

“I am so thankful to him that this man has come all the way from Kamloops to build a hotel in my community. I want to raise the tax base and Paul (Sangha) is helping me. I am thankful to him. That’s all.”

Rathor says there were some meetings between himself, Sangha and City staff as the project progressed and between himself and Sangha that included meals where Rathor paid the bill;  he said he was also willing to help Sangha find a place to live in Williams Lake while he was building his hotel.  Rathor says he never heard Sangha refer to him as “partner” and he refutes the allegation that his presence was requested by the owner at the contract negotiations.

He says McDonald’s business associate called him to request his presence where the owner and the contractor were to discuss outstanding project issues. At that meeting, Rathor says, he had no input into the discussions between the two parties.

“The intent was to bring them together to get the things started before the snow starts flying,” Rathor says. “That was my understanding. I don’t know what their intent was.”

Rathor adds that if he were ever to be found guilty of having a conflict of interest, he would resign immediately and leave the city.

Sangha says there is no conflict of interest involving Rathor.

“There is no truth to it,” he says, adding he never referred to Rathor as his “partner.” He says Rathor was requested by all parties to attend a meeting. Rathor was asked at one time to interpret a line in the contract, and Rathor was quick to note that he is not a lawyer or a mediator and that the question should be asked of an expert.

As for the action taken by the City, McDonald says he thinks an allegation of such “magnitude” would warrant further investigation.

“I’m not satisfied that a formal investigation isn’t being conducted,” he said.

Mayor Kerry Cook said council debated whether to investigate the matter and in the end, with some consideration given to a cost of an investigation, chose this route. She said council received the complaint and spoke to Rathor about it, not McDonald or Sangha.  She said in the end council decided to make Rathor responsible to evaluate his “dealings” on the matter; similar to how council members are required to recognize and reveal potential conflicts of interest and remove themselves from council discussions where they, their family or friends may benefit.

“We feel as a City that we investigated it,” Cook said. “We discussed it. We felt that it was in the City’s best interest to bring that forward and have Coun. Rathor speak to the matter and that’s what we did.” Cook added there was no requirement to bring the matter to the public but that council felt it was important to do so.