The Need for Good Councils

In my next Bean column, which will be available Sunday, I write about the change in proposed legislation for the conduct of municipal elected officials. The changes include a code of conduct and greater transparency of our finances to discern pecuniary interest and conflict of interest including family members. The Provincial Ombudsman will also have a role in overseeing the conduct of Mayors and Councillors. What happened in Fort MacLeod, AB is embarrassing, not to mention Rob Ford in Toronto, ON and the Reeve of the RM of Sherwood, SK.

We need to know that our municipally elected officials, and staff, are acting in the best interests of our community. Sometimes we assume that ‘it’s just the Town.’ While that is true, what is important is that municipalities are responsible for:

  • building community such as our identity including our shared values and purposes resulting in our shared good;
  • overseeing a corporation with about $75 million in assets and about a $14 million budget;
  • set laws to govern safety and relationships,
  • establish a budget to ensure the delivery of goods such as water and facilities, and services like programming; and
  • develop policy to ensure a vibrant and healthy community.

If you are thinking of standing for Council next year please be mindful of the new rules. Contact me if you have any questions.

The following story just happened in Alberta. The original link is here.

Fort Macleod case shows importance of municipal codes of conduct

October 22, 2015

A recent Court of Queen’s Bench ruling confirmed the Town of Fort Macleod’s council operated within its statutory authority to sanction Mayor Rene Gendre in 2014 for inappropriate conduct and did not act in bad faith in imposing such sanctions.  The sanctions included the suspension of his board and committee appointments and role as municipal spokesman.

Council had sanctioned Mayor Gendre due to concerns that he was:

  • incorrectly presenting himself as having authority to speak and negotiate for the town and enter into binding agreements in cases where he did not have this authority;
  • inappropriately directing town administration and volunteers;
  • expressing his personal opinion as the opinion of the Town and council without approval;
  • contravening the town’s advertising policy; and
  • contravening rules governing public input at council meetings.

Mayor Gendre disputed the sanctions and filed for a judicial review. The court ruling reinforces the important role that councils play in terms of ensuring appropriate conduct of elected officials and strong governance. As part of the MGA review, AUMA (ALberta Urban Municipality Association) successfully advocated for mandatory codes of conduct to be set through a municipal bylaw. Based on member input, AUMA submitted proposed approaches to the province on the scope of the code and range of sanctions that municipalities could consider adopting in their bylaw.

Here are the AUMA’s recommendations.

AUMA Recommendations for Regulation and Implementation of a Municipal Code of Conduct

1. Content for Regulation

Scope
  • Require that council establish a code within nine months following the regulation, with a requirement for a review of the code every three years.
  • Require that the code contain the following mandatory elements:
    • roles and responsibilities of councillors and relationship with administration
    • expectations of conduct for the following activities:
      • council meetings;
      • representing council at public or external events;
      • activities outside of council business;
      • external communications, including dealing with the media and engaging in social media;
      • interactions with administration;
      • use of municipal resources; and
      • campaigning for municipal or other elected office while a councillor.
    • confidentiality provisions
    • the need for councillors to support council decisions
  • Allow for optional information to be included in the code such as information on councillor attributes (e.g. respect, accountability, integrity) and any other information deemed necessary by council.
  • Delineate conflict of interest provisions.
    Sanctions
  • Encompass progressive sanctions proportionate to the severity and/or number of
    offenses that include:
  • letter of reprimand
  • training
  • public disclosure of offense
  • restriction of activities
  • removal from committees
  • full suspension of duties for a defined period of time (as defined in the Act)
  • withholding of office budget (e.g. professional development, travel, hosting, research)
  • reduction or full suspension of pay or stipend corresponding to a reduction in duties
  • monetary fine of up to $25,000
Integrity Commissioner
  • Provide for the appointment of an Integrity Commissioner, outline qualification requirements and specify that municipal associations are engaged in the selection process.
  • Reflect a quasi‐judicial process, including defined timelines, evidentiary standards, burden of proof, and a right to appeal.
  • Separate investigative role from decision making and sanction role (e.g., integrity commissioners appoint tribunals to investigate and commissioner makes the decision on whether there was a breach and the related sanction).

2. Training and Acknowledgement

  • Reflect mandatory requirement for all councillors to attend a learning event to review the code of conduct when it is first established and to sign an agreement outlining their understanding of it and agreement to follow it.
  • Standard content is required for the learning event but municipalities can add other content as required.
  • Over time, first – time councillors will complete the learning event as part of their orientation and will sign the agreement. When the agreement is reviewed by Council every three years, all councillors will sign a new agreement.

3. AUMA’s Role in Implementation

  • AUMA will prepare a template bylaw and code for councils.
  • AUMA will prepare education materials for councils and CAOs.
  • AUMA has a casual legal service for councils to access as they develop their bylaw and code.