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This article was published 18/12/2018 (850 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg rookie city Coun. Kevin Klein is the subject of a conflict of interest complaint, due to his ownership of a news website.
Klein – a former publisher of the Winnipeg Sun who was elected to council Oct. 24 to represent Charleswood-Tuxedo – has denied a conflict on the grounds he is no longer involved in the operations of the Manitoba Post.
However, a University of Manitoba ethicist says the conflict of interest is unavoidable – and Klein will either have to resign office or sell the operation to remove himself from it.
Local resident Jennifer McDonald filed a complaint with the City of Winnipeg’s integrity commissioner, Sherri Walsh, alleging Klein has a hidden, ongoing involvement with Manitoba Post and some of its advertisers also have dealings with city hall.
"Should an elected official, who is also chair of the Winnipeg Police Board, really be in the business of running a news outlet on the side and paying contributors to slam city hall while hiding in the shadows and collecting advertising revenue?" McDonald said in an email to the Free Press. "Since the election, Klein has done his best to remove his name from the (Manitoba Post) website in some respects, and no longer tweets articles to the website.
"He has also removed his company name (Klein Group) from the contact page, which look like he’s trying his best to separate himself from the brand, but still profiting off the venture."
McDonald said she doesn’t know Klein nor his wife (Heather Klein, co-owner of Manitoba Post), and is not a former employee nor a disgruntled neighbour. However, "Kevin’s lack of transparency since being elected should be troublesome to all Winnipeggers."
Walsh would not comment Tuesday on the complaint, nor was it clear if she had begun an investigation. Emails McDonald provided to the Free Press confirm Walsh has contacted her.
Walsh said terms of her employment and the protocols guiding the role of integrity commissioner require her to treat all complaints in confidence. If an investigation is initiated, she said, and she ultimately makes a finding that a councillor acted improperly or is in a conflict, she is required to file a report directly to council.
'Mr. Klein is inescapably going to be in a conflict of interest situation. He still makes profit when people advertise in his online publication, and he must know, even if he’s not managing it, who’s advertising on it' — Arthur Schafer, professor at the University of Manitoba and founding director of its Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics
Klein said he contacted Walsh after being informed by the Free Press about the complaint, adding he doesn’t believe his ownership of the news website poses a conflict of interest.
Klein said he and his wife co-own the Manitoba Post through an umbrella company. He said he was publisher but withdrew from that role and all day-to-day involvement shortly after entering the council race.
"My wife runs it, but I don’t have anything to do with it at all," Klein said.
Klein said after winning the council seat, he filed an asset form with the city clerk’s office identifying his ownership in various holdings, including the Klein Group and Manitoba Post website.
Klein said he has no input into stories or columns posted on the site, and is not involved in its management nor operation.
Post-election, Klein was appointed chairman of the Winnipeg Police Board and is a member of council’s property and development committee and its water and waste and environment committee -- both which regularly approve or endorse contracts with third parties. The property committee also approves sales of city land and development projects.
Members of council who believe they are in a conflict of interest on a matter are required to recuse themselves at portions of committee and council meetings when that issue is being discussed and voted on.
"There is an assumption that (Manitoba Post) has some advantage because I’m on city council, but there is none. Zero. None whatsoever," Klein said.
However, Arthur Schafer, a professor with the department of philosophy at the University of Manitoba and the founding director of its Centre for Professional and Applied Ethics, said the conflict is obvious.
One of the advertisers on the Manitoba Post website cited in the complaint is a prominent developer in Winnipeg that has regular dealings with city hall. Schafer said such situations make it difficult for Klein to continue his role as councillor in an impartial, unbiased, manner.
Declaring an ownership in a business that deals with individuals and firms that also deal with city hall does not eliminate the conflict, he said.
"Mr. Klein is inescapably going to be in a conflict of interest situation," Schafer said. "He still makes profit when people advertise in his online publication, and he must know, even if he’s not managing it, who’s advertising on it.
"And now he’ll be in a position (as city councillor) of determining what’s in the best interest of his constituents and the people of the City of Winnipeg when his judgment can easily be biased by the fact that certain people coming to the city for concessions, contracts, rulings and decisions, are providing money to him and his wife, as the owners of the (Manitoba Post)."
Schafer said given Klein’s business interests and the nature of the Manitoba Post, Klein may be recusing himself so frequently he’s incapable of acting as a city councillor.