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
"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.
- 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.