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Central Elgin Passes Council Code of Conduct
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At their May 12, 2014 meeting Central Elgin passed their 42-page Council Code of Conduct by a 5-2 majority vote. Saying it treated members of Council like kindergarten children, Councillor Russell Matthews immediately went on record as being opposed to it.

"The first paragraph prohibits us from publicly disagreeing with Council," Matthews objected. Indeed, under the Ethical Behaviour conditions, paragraph one says "All Members shall accurately and adequately communicate the attitudes and decisions of the Council, even if they disagree with Council's decision, such that respect for the decision making processes of Council is fostered." He was told he could still tell his constituents, the public or the press that he disagreed with a decision of Council, but he would not be allowed to discuss any of the specifics of his disagreement (ie: not why he disagreed).

The document also governs the release of information to the public and media as coming solely from Council as a whole or the Mayor or the mayor's designate. A councillor may not "spill the beans".

Tightly prohibiting the release of confidential information, any member of Council who divulges information discussed in Closed Session that they consider morally, ethically, fiscally or legally wrong will not be protected by any "whistle-blower" legislation. This segment certainly seems inconsistent with the Municipality's stated interest in transparency and accountability in an previous segment of the code.

There is a section calling for the strict adherence of all members of council to obligations regarding avoiding conflict of interest,and which says they will "refrain from attempting to influence the voting on the matter or question, before, during or after the meeting" seems quite impossible to enforce or police. When everyone on Council knows you are a member of a specific service club or community group, and that club or group makes an application for something to Council, is anyone prepared to believe that Council's knowledge of a member's relationship to the applicant is not going to have a bearing on Council's decision?

As Council is also involved in the hiring of municipal employees, how is conflict of interest to be avoided when an applicant is related by blood or marriage to a sitting member of Council or that member's extended family? Even if that member of Council does not participate in the review, discussion or decision; again, is anyone prepared to believe that Council's knowledge of a member's relationship to the applicant is not going to have a bearing on Council's decision?

Matthews contended that as elected officials, councillors did not need to be told how to do everything. He also expressed concerned that they were making this decision which would not be enforce on them, but enforced on the next Council. "Only three members of the current council are running for re-election, and that is not enough to carry this to force it on the next council," Matthews commented.

Mayor Walters said the time to do this was now so that those running for election would know the conditions they would be agreeing to if elected. Deputy Mayor Marr liked the provisions to enforce penalties for those who divulge confidential information. Walters also noted it gave Council a way to control their mayor, alluding to Rob Ford's recent antics in Toronto.

Councillor Martyn also thought the code was excessive and heavy handed. Confirming this was the same Code of Conduct passed by Elgin County, she noted that Malahide had rejected it and did not pass it.

Councillor McNeil said he leans towards a mechanism that keeps people in line. "There is a place for this mechanism, even if it goes a bit too far."

Matthews said if council had to sign this, then every member of senior staff should also have to sign it [now then you'd really have a problem enforcing conflict of interest regarding the hiring of family members] but Mayor Walters said senior staff already had to sign such codes as part of their certification process (eg: code of conduct required by Certified General Accountants). Leitch said if Council wanted senior staff to sign a Code of Conduct then staff could devise one that applied to staff. This one applied only for Council.

In a recorded vote, Council passed By-laws 1729, 1729 and 1730, which implemented the Code of Conduct and its enforcement mechanisms, with Stephen Carr, Rob McFarlan, Dan McNeil, David Marr and Bill Walters voting in favour, and Russell Matthews and Sally Martyn voting against. The 42-page Code of Conduct is to be published on the municipal website for all to see.

By-laws

  • Taken and passed collectively
  • By-law 1728: Being a By-law to Establish a Code of Conduct
  • By-law 1729: Being a By-law to Appoint JGM Consulting as Integrity Commissioner
  • By-law 1730: Being a By-law to Approve Complaint Form for Municipal Investigation

At least at this point, Council is not able to prohibit media from attending and reporting on Open Sessions of Council, including the reasons why any given Councillor(s) may disagree with any given decision of Council. It's just your elected councillors who won't be able to speak about it.


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