Kelowna Mayor Sharon Shepherd moved to diffuse controversy Friday over a $500 donation to her re-election campaign by announcing she had returned the money.
The donation— originally believed to have been from the union representing Kelowna firefighters but later revealed to have been from a former president of the union who was then reimbursed by Kelowna Professional Firefighters local 913—was returned Thursday night.
According to Shepherd, she gave the money back to end any perception of a conflict of interest—something she vehemently denied— given that firefighters are city employees and their collective agreement, while not negotiated with council, has to ratified by council. The current two-year agreement was ratified earlier this year.
News of the donation was made public earlier this week at a mayoral all-candidates forum.
At the forum, Shepherd’s main opponent, former mayor Walter Gray, expressed “shock” at the news given Shepherd’s refusal to take donations from developers because their projects may come before her and the rest of council for approval in future.
Gray has admitted he accepts donations from developers, saying he does not consider it a potential conflict of interest.
Larry Hollier, current president of the firefighters union, confirmed a $500 donation had been made to Shepherd’s campaign but was returned a few days later with a note of thanks.
Then, one of Shepherd’s campaign volunteers, retired former firefighters’ union president Harold Heyming made a personal donation of the same amount to the campaign and unbeknownst to Shepherd was reimbursed the money by the union.
Hollier, who union has endorsed Shepherd, said it is supporting her because she has supported the fire department and its firefighters on several issues in the past including having the potential of cancer for firefighters fighting blazes recognized.
He said his union supports candidates based on what they have done in the past, not what they may do in the future.
The civic election is tomorrow, Saturday, Nov. 19.