Integrity on Council, part 3

Image borrowed from the Yarmouth municipal site. Ideally, all of these signs would point in the same direction – maybe they mean to imply that these matters can be complicated? Really, this image is quite silly. Goes to show that we really need to pay attention! But I defy you to do a search for images related to a code of conduct that doesn’t return conflicting “signpost” images like this. What’s up with that?

In the last post I went through the first ten rules of the Council Code of Conduct to try to lay them out in layman’s terms. They’re pretty straightforward, so these posts are more about summarizing them. You can read the full Code of Conduct here. Now let’s pick up at rule 11.

11. Respect for Municipality By-laws and Policies:

Councillors are to show respect for the rules of our community. Whether we voted for it or not, once a by-law or policy has been adopted by Council, we should not only observe and respect it, but uphold it. When we disrespect the laws of our community, we undermine the foundation and framework that holds our community together. No councillor should do that.

12. Respectful Workplace:

Like every workplace, the Municipality of Brighton expects all of its employees (including councillors) to treat each other and the public with respect and avoid any abuse or violence. The Ontario Human Rights Code applies, as well as HR policies; and any complaints against councillors will also be forwarded to the Integrity Commissioner.

This matter came up in the KPMG staff report, which indicated that a significant amount of staff turnover came as a result of rocky relationships between staff and councillors. My own approach toward municipal staff is rooted in my belief in an inverted hierarchy: while managers are “over” staff in a hierarchy, I believe any senior position exists primarily to empower and support those “below” them. As the “highest” position in the hierarchy, Council’s role with staff is to empower and facilitate their work within the framework of the municipality; if my actions inhibit their work in any way, I’m out of line. That means that, while I do my best to have positive relationships with staff, I stay out of their way. If I have concerns, I address them to the appropriate manager in a respectful and supportive way. I don’t bring issues to staff members directly because it isn’t my place to criticize or discipline someone who’s just doing their job. These people are my team – OUR team – and I want to be their biggest cheerleader.

13. Conduct Respecting Staff:

This continues the theme of the last point, but goes beyond the baseline requirement of respect:

a. I can’t compel staff to engage in partisan political activities, or threaten them if they won’t. Staff are apolitical: they sacrifice their ability to hold partisan positions when they take on their role working in government, and that should be respected and honoured.

b. I can’t use my position to intimidate staff or compel them to do anything. They are not my employees, servants, or subordinates in any meaningful way.

c. I should never “maliciously or falsely impugn or injure the professional or ethical reputation or the prospects or practice of staff”, and I should show respect for their “professional capacities.” Basically, we hire staff to be the experts in their own roles, and it isn’t up to me to say that any one of them is bad at their job or shouldn’t be respected or taken seriously. Even if it were on a matter of my own expertise, it would be inappropriate for me to use my position to talk down to staff members who are just doing their jobs.

14. Employment of Council Relatives/Family Members:

No nepotism. I can’t get my family members jobs at the municipality, and I shouldn’t try. I would recuse myself from any decision that might impact the job prospects of my family members.

15. Not Undermine, Work Against Council’s Decisions:

“Members of Council shall not actively undermine the implementation of Council’s decisions.”

Once Council has made a decision, regardless of who voted which way on it, that decision belongs to all of Council, and to all of the Municipality. If I have a problem with a decision of council, it is possible for me to prepare a motion to change things; it is inappropriate for me to denigrate the decision in public, or to try to stall the implementation of that decision through legal challenges (unless there’s concern for the legality of how a decision is being implemented, which is a different matter). I’m sure that I’ll “win some” and “lose some” over the next few years, but no matter what, I’ll support the decisions once they’ve been made. Council is a body, and whatever appendage you might think of me as, the body is one person. To do otherwise is to undermine the public trust in Council and to put staff in a very difficult position.

16. Reprisals and Obstruction:

I can’t threaten or obstruct the Integrity Commissioner, or anyone helping the IC in their investigation. That includes by deleting emails or texts I might not be proud of.

That brings me to a grey area: if I say something here that is not compliant with the Code of Conduct, I’m going to want to delete it as soon as I realize that I’m out of line. I suppose I’ll have to screenshot it first? My point is that if something disappears from my blog it’s because I don’t want to say anything I shouldn’t say, not because I’m worried about getting caught doing so. (If I knew something was wrong before I said it, and I said it on the internet anyway, getting caught clearly wasn’t my top concern!)

17. Acting on Advice of Integrity Commissioner:

If I have sought the advice of the IC on a matter, and follow that advice, the IC can’t come back on me later with a different opinion and hold me accountable for the things I did on the basis of their prior advice (unless I withheld information that would have led to different advice in the first place).

This is why you may hear politicians say “I have sought the advice of the Integrity Commissioner, and acted upon it accordingly.” Since the IC is there to help us make things right, the best thing we can ever do if we’ve made a mistake is talk to the IC and follow their advice. Doing so should lead to the best possible outcome; but if for some reason it doesn’t, we can at least say that we did the best that we could, because that’s what the IC will advise us to do.

18. Implementation:

I must formally and informally review my own conduct compared to the Code of Conduct. As in every context, integrity on Council is a present continuous condition, a constant orientation toward greater self-awareness and self-control.

That said, self-control is well-known to be a common human failure, and self-awareness is even harder. I feel like I’ve said it a lot here, but if you see me breaking the code of conduct, please tell me! I want to know so that I can correct any misbehaviour or misinformation I may be responsible for. So often we expect that people (and especially politicians) who misbehave are sneaky, malicious, or just “bad people”; but my experience with people in general, and with my new colleagues on Council, is that we all want to do things right and would welcome constructive feedback.

Which brings us to…

Council Code of Conduct Complaint Protocol
Part A: Informal Complaint Procedure

If you see me breaking the code of conduct, please:
1. Tell me! Please be kind, but please do point out if I’ve broken the Code.
2. Ask me to stop.
3. Keep a record of any incident (dates, times, people involved, locations, and any other relevant information) in case that info needs to be reviewed.
4. If you’re pleased with my response, please let me know. If you aren’t, make sure you let me know!
5. If you’ve told me that I’ve broken the Code of Conduct and gone through all of the above steps, and I still haven’t properly addressed my misbehaviour, please file a formal complaint.

Part B: Formal Complaint Procedure

1. Send an email to the Integrity Commissioner (contact info can be found on our Code of Conduct page), identifying yourself and setting out reasonable and probable grounds for your allegation that a member of Council has broken the Code.
2. Include the member’s name, which part of the Code they’ve broken, the facts of the matter (the notes you kept, as above), and your own contact info.

The Integrity Commissioner will decide if the complaint relates to the Code of Conduct, or to another policy; i.e., if it’s a criminal complaint, they’ll suggest you take it to the police. Every rule or law specifies who enforces it, so if the complaint is about something covered by another law, the IC can direct you as to how to resolve it.

They may also decide that the complaint doesn’t warrant an investigation: sometimes people make complaints to the Integrity Commissioner for politically motivated reasons, or for personal reasons, and the IC has the authority to determine which complaints they’ll investigate. (The IC also won’t conduct any investigations during an election period, except in specific circumstances; it would be too easy to derail an election campaign if every complaint was investigated.) If the IC opts not to investigate a complaint, they have to provide a reason, and they report to Council annually regarding complaints, advice they’ve offered to members of Council, and developments that arose from either, without unnecessarily naming names or getting into detail.

I encourage you to read more about the IC’s process, if that interests you; but for our purposes, that’s enough for today. The point is that the Integrity Commissioner is there to be an impartial resource for councillors and the public alike, with the goal of maintaining a respectful and respectable relationship between Council and the public that allows for public trust, because that public trust is the magical ingredient that makes a municipal government functional.

Next week I’ll wrap up this series with some more thoughts on public trust.

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