Code of Conduct with enforcement needed
Taxpayers often wonder about remedies when councillors or a mayor behave badly.
There are tools available to address or prevent less-than-responsible conduct by locally elected officials including education and training, legislation, legislated offices and the courts.
During the last several years the issue has concerned those responsible for local government, who created a dedicated webpage Responsible Conduct of Locally Elected Officials.‘ The province also prepared a model code of conduct for councils and a guide to help develop one.
In 2013, despite the recommendation from the city auditor, Victoria council rejected the mayors proposed code of conduct.
It would have provided some baby teeth at least to hold a misbehaving councillor or mayor to account.
As it stands, the council procedures bylaw governs council conduct directly, but section 18 only addresses behaviour in council chambers.
In Saanich’s code of conduct, which is now being updated, any alleged breach goes to the mayor and chief administrative officer in writing. If they can’t resolve the matter informally, or if it involves the mayor, it goes to an agreed-upon independent third-party. The investigator has various powers ranging from recommending an apology, counselling, or public censure.
When a local government faces issues related to less-than-responsible conduct, it may affect the local government’s ability to provide good governance to their community, so says the province.
If the province truly believes that, then it’s time to add some adult teeth and bring in an accompanying ‘enforcement model’ for the council code of conduct.
But unfortunately, there is no clear consensus about legislating mandatory codes of conduct for all local governments, according to the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing. So, the province has instead opted “to develop additional guidance material to support meaningful conduct discussions and resources for enforcing codes of conduct.”
In our view, considering the actions of Victoria council in recent months, a code similar to Saanich, Vancouver, Prince George and other communities should again be considered. The magniloquent declaration of principles and values in the city’s strategic plan are inadequate.
A code of conduct would not only improve governance, but give council a much-needed boost in credibility.
When councillors behave badly, Letter to the Editor, Times Colonist, Feb. 24, 2020.