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Winnipeg city councillor apologizes after ethics investigation

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A city councillor is apologizing after an investigation found he violated a code of ethics rule by not recusing himself from a vote on a proposed development co-owned by a personal friend and former campaign manager.

An investigative report in front of city council said Markus Chambers broke the code by participating in a committee meeting where he influenced, discussed, and voted on a decision where he had a conflict of interest.

"I was really focused on outcomes, the best outcomes for the community which blinded my judgment in terms of recusing myself from this vote," Chambers told CTV News Winnipeg on Friday.

"I apologize for the optics it created."

The investigation by the city's integrity commissioner was launched following a formal complaint filed in September 2023.

It stems from an agenda item at a Riel Community Committee meeting in June of 2023 concerning a proposed multi-unit apartment complex at 180 Creek Bend Road, which is in Chambers' ward.

According to the complaint, Chambers had a personal relationship with one of the co-owners of the development, noting they are a personal friend, past campaign manager and advisor to Chambers.

"The local residents presented petitions (with 180 signatures) to reduce the size and density of the project, however, Markus has throughout favoured his personal friend rather than the constituents," the complaint reads.

"This obviously provides better economic gain for … the personal friend of Mr. Chambers," the complaint later reads.

The committee, which Chambers was a member of, was asked to consider a report from the public service, recommending the development move the majority of its parking underground and create a 20-foot landscape buffer.

Investigation looked at social media posts, interviews

In Integrity Commissioner Sherri Walsh's report, she said the developer appeared in delegation on behalf of the project to oppose the recommendation.

Chambers and the other committee members voted unanimously in favour of the developer's request to reject the parking recommendations.

In the subsequent investigation, Chambers said he spoke with the developer a handful of times about the development, and his advice was always to speak with city officials.

Chambers responded to the complaint by acknowledging his relationship with the developer and detailed his involvement with the development, which stretches back years before the developer's purchase of the property.

However, Chambers acknowledged that a change in ownership and his continued involvement afterward "resulted (in) optics that were not optimal to the outcome of addressing the needs of the community," the report reads.

The investigation looked at meeting minutes and videos, city administrative reports, screenshots of social media posts by Chambers that referenced his relationship with the developer, and interviews of both Chambers and the complainant.

Chambers says he knew the developer for 15 years, having met them through the Provincial Nominee Program where he once worked. Chambers later worked with the developer's spouse.

He noted he did not engage in any business or financial relationships with the developer, and considers them a friend.

There is no evidence in the report’s conclusion to suggest Chambers stood to benefit from the vote.

'I do apologize'

The commissioner recommended Chambers be reprimanded, removed from the committee, and required to make a public apology.

Chambers said he was focused on the development at the time, and knew the project would have opened up options for affordable housing units.

He also says the developer had been advised by a geotechnical engineer who suggested there could be structural integrity issues if they excavated beyond the envelope of the building.

Chambers says he is guilty of treating a personal friend like any other developer.

"At the end of the day, I take the responsibility of not recusing myself from that vote, which was a unanimous vote, and I do apologize."

City council is set to vote on the integrity commissioner's recommendations on Thursday.

The full report can be read on the city's website.

- With files from CTV's Jeff Keele

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