Township adopts new code of conduct

ELORA – Centre Wellington has a new code of conduct.

However, it did not come without debate.

The amended code of conduct was first brought to council at the June 17 committee of the whole meeting, where it was deferred.

It was once again discussed at the Jan. 27 special council meeting, including comments and changes made by councillors Stephen Kitras, Ian MacRae and Kirk McElwain.

Ultimately, council choose to accept the code of conduct that was presented on June 17, with a few amendments.

The June code of conduct was based on a template provided by integrity commissioner Guy Giorno to Wellington County and area municipalities. It included a few revisions from the original 2017 code of conduct.

Giorno said the key to a code of conduct is that it is enforceable by an integrity commissioner.

“It’s my advice to council members … to remove from codes of conduct anything that is vague or fuzzy and to be very clear about that which is aspirational and not enforceable – and don’t put it in the code of conduct – and stick to rules that are clear and measurable,” he told council on Jan. 27.

The code of conduct requires a few key elements including: provisions addressing use of influence, interference with staff, use of property and resources, confidential information, gifts, hospitality and benefits, respectful conduct, discrimination, harassment etc.

Giorno made it clear it is not his role to handle complaints made about conduct at a council or committee meeting.

“Under the municipal act and under the procedural bylaw, the presiding officer (ie. mayor or chair) already has all the tools necessary to deal with order and decorum and unparliamentary language,” he said.

The code presented in June is primarily the same as the original 2017 document with the addition of a definition of disrespectful behaviour and a section on communications and media relations.

However, those additions are exactly what council chose to exclude.

Council deleted the definition of “disrespectful behaviour” which stated “behaviour that is rude, unpleasant, inappropriate and unprofessional.

“Behaviour that causes hurt feelings and distress, disturbs and/or offends others and displays a lack of regard for others. Examples may include but not limited to: insensitive comments, harsh or public criticism, offensive jokes or sarcasm, swearing, belittling comments or behavior, rude gestures, etc.”

Council also eliminated any aspects of the code that referenced disrespectful behaviour.

Council also removed the entire section on communications and media relations.

“That gives council the freedom to speak to their residents on how they feel about things,” said councillor Steven VanLeeuwen.

“It gives total freedom to council for speech.”

Council unanimously passed the new code of conduct (Mayor Kelly Linton was absent as he was in the hospital due to a bacterial infection).

After the June meeting, some of the comments council suggested include:

Kitras suggestions

Kitras suggested a code of conduct for staff, raised concerns about potential or perceived conflicts of interest as a result of election campaign donations and comments about key principles.

O’Kane said in the report a code of conduct for staff could only be created with council’s direction; election campaigns are covered under the Municipal Elections Act; and the key principles section has been removed at the request of the integrity commissioner.

MacRae suggestions

MacRae asked that definitions include examples of committees, for a section to help councillors and committee members avoid conflicts of interest, for a provision to address recourse for a member of council under interference and for specific changes to the communications and media relations section.

All of MacRae’s concerns were added to Jan. 27 version of the code of conduct, O’Kane wrote, except help in avoiding conflict of interest.

Staff suggested that information be included in the councillor handbook, which is currently under development.

McElwain suggestion

Councillor McElwain suggested that the section stating “public statements from staff or the mayor, if referring to council business, should be reviewed by council before going public,” should be removed or changed.

* * *

None of the councillors’ suggestions were considered by council as it was working from the original June code of conduct.