by Graham Cotter
Conflict of Interest
The municipal council was in session, and had passed the estimates for welfare and roads. This discussion had turned to taxation and revenues. Garth Katting had the floor.
“What I mean, Mr. Chairman, is I mean to say, the more people we have the more taxes we get.”
“If the people we haff are taxpayers.” interrupted Hans Erkelens, “We don’t need more people on welfare.”
“Of course, of course, I mean to say, these people from the city – they pay taxes, so we have more taxes!”
“But” said Mayor Timothy Scace, Albert’s brother, “That’s all very well if the people have land with houses that are serviced; if we have to service the land, then their taxes will not be enough.”
“Agreed Mr. Mayor,” Garbutt Conlon was speaking, “We need proper farmers, or proper townspeople, and none of these riff-raff from the city.”
“Mr. Chairman, I believe I mean to say,” said Garth, “I mean to say, I think you should refrain from this discussion.”
“But why? It’s not a formal motion. I can talk like anyone else!”
“I mean to say I think you should declare a conflict of interest!”
“And why, pray tell, should I do that?”
“Because, I mean to say, of your brother Albert.”
“But Albert has nothing to do with whether we give these people a license to go buying up farmland, for goodness sakes!”
“Ah, Mr. Mayor, Mr.Chairman, I mean to say, but your brother has something to do with it. I mean to say.”
“Please explain yourself. How could my brother, who runs his own life and works for County Conservation, affect my vote on a matter like this?”
“Your brother, Mr. Chairman, I mean to say, is known to be violently opposed, I mean to say, to the development of our beautiful land.”
“Come off it! Garth,” said Conlon, “Bert Scace and the authority have done more to keep these parts beautiful than anyone around here, ‘cept Miz Lynch and her peonies in Norham!”
“I mean to say, I have information that your brother, and the Conversation Authority ”
“Conservation Authority ”
“- that the authority is opposed to the Triple O Development Corporation.”
“That’s no big news. Half the people around here, the ones with any sense, are opposed to that fat jerk and his bulldozers.”
“Calm it Conlon,” said the Mayor, “Let’s see if Garth really has anything new to tell us.”
“Definite information this morning, I mean to say, I had a telephone call all the way from down Tronna.” Garth slapped the desk as if he had just had a message from Mars.
“Never you mind who from, I mean to say, it should be someone from – never you mind. I got a message that the Government is watching what your brother is doing against private development in the public interest. I mean to say, in Northumberland County.”
“My brother’s never done a thing against the public interest in his life! If he spent more time on his private interest and less on the public interest he might be better off!”
Scace was getting angry, which he seldom did. An older version of Albert, but with greying hair, rather than red, and well-tailored grey suits, he lived up to his business motto,
“You have a Place with Timothy Scace – your friendly Insurance and Honey Man.”
From the corner Truman McQuoid, a little old man with bright eyes, piped “What about them damn swans, public nuisance, attacking Georgie Ruebottom? Bert got the swans for the pond.”
“Nothing wrong mit der svans if you leave dem alone.” Hans put in, “Anyway, it’s a public service to attack Georgie Ruebottom, fool kid wit a fool mudder.”
“Them swans is good, beautiful, pond is beautiful, amd man on fourth line he looks after them in winter,” came from the back.” And I know a man in sixth line, he’s been to Venus in Italy, got one of those gondolas, they’d look in pond.”
“Point of Order-” started the Chairman.
But the intrusion was taken up in the front row: “Good enough, but who would feed the durn thing? the goddamola!”
“Now gentlemen, please,” said the Chairman, “Go on Garth. Is there anything of substance you accuse my brother of?”
“Well, I mean to say, he threatened the manager of the Triple O
and called him names!”
“He might well have. But that’s a civil matter. It has nothing to do with my impartiality of judgement on whether Bondworthy can carve up the countryside.”
“Come to think of it, Mr. Gatting,” Hans’ English improved when he calmed down, “You should declare a conflict of interest your-self!”
“Conflict of interest, how I mean to say, what?”
“Bondworthy had an option on one hundred acres of your land back towards the settlement.”
“Yes, I mean to say, but that is confidential, you should not know, I mean to say, how did you know?”
“Bondworthy told me hisself – boasted off it!”
“And,” said the chairman, “That is a real conflict of interest, and would rule you out of the voting. If you had not revealed it, or it had not been revealed for you, there could have been some nasty questions raised. You should be a little more careful how you throw around accusations in future. They boomerang.” Timothy was crisp.
“Well I mean to say…”
“This meeting is now adjourned till after lunch. What is it, Miss Ouchterlony?”
“There’s a gentleman to see Mr. Katting. Mr. Bondworthy of the Triple O Development. He’s been waiting for you sir!”
Kattering got up with some humphs and mean-to-says and left with the municipal secretary.
“Haw, haw, haw,” said Hans Erkelens, a grin cutting his face in two till his nose nearly touched his chin. “How’s dat for a coinkydink!”
Outside the council chamber Katting met Bondworthy and shook hands.
“Hard time defending you in there, I mean to say, the Mayor is Scace’s brother, you know. Very prejudiced, I mean to say.”
“Mr. Katting, I’ve something more serious to discuss with you than Scace. Is there somewhere we can talk in private?”
“Drive you back to the house, and give you a cuppa soup.”
“Okay, thanks. You see it’s like this,” Bondworthy climbed into Katting’s car. “It’s legal problems.”
“Well don’t worry, I mean to say, that Act of the Provincial Parliament, limiting the sale of farm land to twenty-five acres, I mean to say, don’t apply to us.”
“Yes, I know, because we got the land surveyed into lots first, and the new land we’re trying to buy is near enough to the village to be subdivided. No, the problem is much worse, I just hope our folks in Toronto can get to the judges for us.”
“You mean to say, I mean to say, Mr Hugesson.”
“Yea. Nautilus has a lot of punch, even in the courts.”
“But what’s the problem, I mean to say.”
“Title deeds, Mr. Katting, title deeds.”
“What about the title deeds.”
“There is some doubt whether they are in order. Anyway, that’s what this commie outfit is claiming to the courts.”
“Communists! I mean to say, which ones?”
“City gang of long hairs calling themselves Speculator Probe. Have a bunch in Peterborough. Nasty-minded bastards.”
“But I mean to say, what could be wrong with the title deed?”
“No clear title.”
“But they must have been searched by lawyers in the Registry Office?”
“Something wrong with the transfer from farm owners to lot owners, that’s what they claim.”
By now they had reached Katting’s house in the `suburban’ side of Warkworth. He had inherited a fine old Victorian mansion and just a few years before had pulled it down and replaced it with “Willowdale Windswept Split” a rectangular structure with a large single glaze window looking across the street into Conlon’s large single glaze picture window. Two stone swans, a plastic flamingo, and a little black jockey stood guard on the lawn.
“Well Bondworthy,” said Katting as he showed him in the door, “I mean to say, don’t worry. The courts are still on the side of private property. I mean to say, when it comes to who really runs the province. Let’s have a drink before lunch.”
Bondworthy, his usual cheeky brassiness dulled, shook his head, not refusing the drink, but in silent disagreement as he followed the councillor in.
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