Greater Vancouver Transportation Authority chair Malcolm Brodie is convening a special meeting to address what some might see as a "perception of a conflict of interest" relating to property owned by Port Moody Mayor and TransLink director Joe Trasolini. In a statement released exclusively to Public Eye yesterday, Mr. Brodie said recommended measures "will include the exclusion of Director Trasolini from future board discussions and decisions relating to the (proposed) Evergreen Line project." Mr. Trasolini has denied any such conflict concerns exist. Mr. Brodie's statement was triggered by a Public Eye investigation that revealed Mayor Trasolini owns a $2.5 million property along the line's St. Johns Street segment - about 400 meters away from its proposed Buller Street station.
The light rail transit line - a TransLink project - is meant to connect the Tri-Cities with SkyTrain and the West Coast Express. The former owner of Mr. Trasolini's property, Cameo Construction Ltd. president Louis Winkler, says the agreement for sale of that holding is dated May 12, 2004, with the purchase price listed as being $2.6 million.
At the time that agreement was reached, Mr. Trasolini was not a TransLink director. He served on the board in 2003 and rejoined in 2005. That means he did not participate in the board's December 8, 2004 decision to approve the "essential elements" of the Evergreen Line.
In an interview with Public Eye Monday, Mr. Trasolini said he was approached by Mr. Winkler about purchasing the property. Mr. Trasolini went ahead with the deal because had sold his old company, was getting more involved in politics and needed a business that demanded less of his time. And renting commercial space fit the bill.
Asked for comment on Mr. Brodie's statement Wednesday, Mr. Trasolini said "I've consulted with a solicitor. And I'm going to put them in touch" with TransLink's solicitor. "And I'm going to wait until they talk to each other. Because, to me, it's a very clear situation. There's nothing thereâ€¦I have nothing to hide. I encourage TransLink to seek guidance from the conflict of interest commissioner."
Although Mr. Trasolini did add he's been trying to sell the property since May, 2006. And there's been a draft agreement for sale of that holding since August 14, 2006 - an agreement which has been accepted. "I see (the Evergreen Line) as a negative disruption. This is not a residential zoning. This is a light industrial/commercial. I don't even want to be there if the Evergreen Line is built. I see this as a negative. So I've been selling this property."
On Monday, Mr. Trasolini also said the property didn't put him in a perceived conflict because, "If you read the definition of conflict, it's if I make a decision that's only for me. And, in fact, (supporting the Evergreen Line) doesn't. It benefits the whole northeast sector."
"It's the same way when you decrease taxes. You say, 'Gee, I want taxes to be low.' And then somebody's going to accuse you and say, 'Gee you want to keep taxes low because you want to pay low.' But the rest of the city's going to pay low. So, there's no questions whatsoever."
Mr. Trasolini pointed out plans to run a transit line down St. Johns have been on the books for 15 years. But he hasn't been a proponent of that plan, preferring a route along the Lougheed Highway instead. And he says he fully disclosed ownership of the property to TransLink and the City of Port Moody.
Mr. Trasolini's disclosed ownership of the property to TransLink in a 2007 filing. Mr. Trasolini says he also disclosed that property to TransLink in a 2006 filing. According to Port Moody's Financial Disclosure Act schedule, Mr. Trasolini listed the property as an asset in annual filings dated January 13, 2006 and January 15, 2007.
On March 6, 2006 TransLink directors appointed Mr. Trasolini chair of the Evergreen Line board communications committee. During the same meeting, he also participated in a vote to approve $35 million for the strategic acquisition of properties along the Evergreen Line. No specific properties were identified in that budget. And he was present when the board voted on October 18, 2006 to approve $16 million for detailed design work on the Evergreen Line - as well as request $400 million in additional funding from the provincial and federal governments.
After Public Eye contacted TransLink, its chair contacted Mr. Trasolini Monday evening. TransLink then launched a conflict of interest review, which issued its recommendations late Tuesday evening. Mr. Brodie had a meeting with Mayor Trasolini at 11 a.m. Wednesday, after which TransLink issued a statement to Public Eye.