New lord mayor says job does not have to be 'full-time'

Lord Mayor-elect Gary Zalepa is confident he can walk a tightrope and balance his work between the political and private sector during his first term in office.

Zalepa said he intends to keep his position as a strategic developer for realtor Century 21.

“I plan on doing what's necessary to make it all work," he said in an interview.

"I don't believe (being lord mayor is) a full-time role," he added.

The mayor's job in Niagara-on-the-Lake was never meant to be full-time, he added.

That job begins in earnest in a little over a week. The new council will be sworn in at a ceremony at the old Court House on Tuesday, Nov. 22. A public reception will follow the inaugural.

Zalepa said he manages his time very well and has been balancing his responsibilities to Century 21 with his previous duties as NOTL's regional councillor.

Town council positions, including that of lord mayor, require significant dedication.

However, NOTL councillors are only paid about $15,000 a year and the lord mayor earns about $44,000 a year, according to the town's orientation package for the previous term of council.

The lord mayor earns nearly $39,000 more for sitting on regional council as well, according to the region's website.

Unsuccessful candidate John McCallum promised that the political office would be his full-time responsibility because he is retired. And defeated Lord Mayor Betty Disero campaigned on being "your full-time" mayor.

Coun.-elect Adriana Cater Vizzari assured voters during the FocusNOTL meetings that she would not be too busy for the role despite her professional commitments.

“I'd really like to focus on the town's procedural bylaw,” Zalepa said, theorizing that this would help shorten council's notoriously long meetings.

He believes he can weigh the two commitments evenly because his employer has been “really supportive of (him) taking on this role.”

Zalepa said he does much of his work for Century 21 from home and that the flexibility of his position should help him meet his mayoral responsibilities.

The election campaign raised some questions about political transparency and conflicts of interests.

Zalepa said representing the town’s interests is his top priority, noting that while he still has his real estate licence, he hasn't sold real estate for at least 10 years.

“My role is really strategic planning,” Zalepa said.

“There's nothing that we would deal with, from my company's point of view that would have any type of pecuniary conflict of interest.”

Retired Brock University political science Prof. David Siegel said municipal conflicts of interest boil down to whether a council member will make a direct financial benefit from a decision.

According to the Municipal Conflict of Interest Act, any sitting council member or head of council should “disclose the interest by filing a written statement of the interest and its general nature with the clerk of the municipality,” if ever a pecuniary interest arises during their civic duty.

The act lists seven exceptions to this rule.

The two items that Siegel focused on in this case were the significance of the pecuniary gain and whether that gain is shared with the wider community.

In Siegel’s estimation, Zalepa would not have to declare a conflict of interest over a decision affecting housing density for the town because, while his company might gain from an increased housing supply, so would the public, generally.

So, just because Zalepa has a job in the real estate sector does not mean he would have a conflict in development matters.

But, in the event that council was debating a new development plan for, say, Glendale, and Century 21 “was going to be selling a lot of houses in that development,” then Zalepa would have a pecuniary interest in the decision.

“You have an interest in a matter if your employer has an interest in the matter,” Siegel added.

The town has also had issues with short-term rentals and council could be acting to further regulate them in future.

Siegel said that while a council decision might benefit some real estate agents there would be no guarantee that buyers would be using Zalepa's company to buy or sell their properties.

So, the potential gain would therefore not be significant enough to warrant declaring a conflicting of interest.

Evan Loree, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Lake Report