A report from the Integrity Commissioner of the City of Kingston has found that Pittsburgh District Councillor Ryan Boehme did not violate the Member Code of Conduct or the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act (MCIA) with respect to his participation in 2023 budget deliberations for Kingston Fire & Rescue (KFR) and his subsequent candidacy as a potential KFR recruit.
As Kingstonist previously reported, during a Kingston City Council meeting on Tuesday, Jun. 6, 2023, councillors — including Boehme himself — voted unanimously to launch an investigation into Boehme’s actions at a Wednesday, Mar. 1, 2023 council meeting. At that March meeting, the veteran councillor had spoken to and voted in favour of an amendment to the City’s budget which included funding for KFR to hire 12 new firefighters in 2023; then afterward it came to light that Boehme, a longtime volunteer firefighter with KFR, had applied for one of the new positions, which prompted Council to request the investigation.
In a report published by Integrity Commissioner Laura Dean — a municipal and land use planning lawyer with Toronto’s Aird and Berlis LLP — the commissioner ruled that Boehme’s actions did not contravene the Member Code of Conduct or the MCIA.
As part of the investigation, Dean conducted a phone interview with Boehme, during which he confirmed he was a volunteer firefighter. According to the report, when Boehme spoke to the matter at the March meeting, “he did so in furtherance of what he views as his role to improve community safety with respect to an issue that is ‘near and dear to people’s hearts.’”
The commissioner added, “At the time of the March 1, 2023, Council meeting, [Councillor Boehme] had not received any response to his KFR Application apart from a generic message that it had been received.” During her interview with Boehme, Dean noted, the councillor stated that he viewed his application as an “expression of interest” and not a “point of conflict.”
The report went on to note that Boehme did eventually move on to further stages in the recruitment process, but he did not ultimately secure one of the 12 new positions. According to Dean, Boehme “sought and received advice from the City’s Integrity Commissioner regarding his ethical obligations in light of the KFR Application” following the March 1 council meeting.
With respect to the MCIA, Dean found that Boehme did not have a “pecuniary interest” in the KFR recruitment process, meaning he did not contravene the act when he took part in the March 1 deliberations. “The MCIA does not define ‘pecuniary interest’ [;] however, the case law establishes that a pecuniary interest under the MCIA is restricted to a financial, monetary or economic interest,” the commissioner wrote, noting that there must be a “traceable financial or economic impact.”
Considering the fact that Boehme submitted his application to KFR on February 27, 2023, just two days before the council meeting, and had no way of knowing whether or not he would be successful, Dean ruled the councillor did not have a clear pecuniary interest in the matter. “In the absence of a real financial interest that has crystallized, a pecuniary interest should not be presumed, nor should the spectre of it prevent a member’s participation in the matter before council,” she wrote.
In addition to the ruling regarding the MCIA, the Commissioner also found that Boehme’s actions were consistent with the Member Code of Conduct to which councillors are bound. Considering the obligation of city councillors to “seek to advance the public interest with honesty,” Dean ruled that Boehme’s participation in the March 1 meeting came from an “honestly held belief that he was advancing the public interest.”
The commissioner further elaborated, “In our opinion, the Member’s vote and participation in the Matter was consistent with his established record of support for improved emergency services within the City. There is no evidence that the Member was dishonest, that his actions were motivated by self-interest or that the Member failed to advance the public interest with honesty.”
Despite Boehme’s roles as both a member of Council and a volunteer firefighter, Dean concluded the councillor did not seek to use his positions to influence members of KFR’s recruitment team. “There is no evidence that the Member attempted to influence any person for his own private advantage or non-pecuniary interest or to disadvantage another person,” she wrote.
In terms of how the Code of Conduct views conflicts of interest, the Commissioner noted members must “take appropriate steps to avoid conflicts of interest, both apparent and real.” While Councillor Boehme’s private interests and public duties may have “overlapped,” Dean ruled the situation did not constitute a “real” conflict of interest for Boehme.
The commissioner added, “While [Councillor Boehme] may have been perceived as having an apparent conflict of interest in the Matter, we are satisfied that he took the appropriate mitigative steps.” In conclusion, Dean wrote, “For all of the reasons set out above, it is our opinion based on the totality of the evidentiary record, that the Member did not contravene the MCIA or the [Member Code of Conduct] with respect to the Matter.”
The integrity commissioner’s report will be presented to Kingston City Council during its regular meeting on Tuesday, Aug. 8, 2023. As the commissioner did not issue any recommendations to Council, communications staff with the City confirmed to Kingstonist, the report will be presented as “information only” on Tuesday night.
Kingstonist also reached out to Councillor Boehme for comment on the report. Boehme declined to comment prior to the forthcoming meeting of Kingston City Council.
The meeting of City Council begins at 7 p.m. in the Council Chambers of Kingston City Hall. Meetings are open to the public, and can be streamed live (or viewed after) on the Kingston City Council YouTube page.