Smiths Falls debates new code of conduct for Councillors

August 31, 2018 by

News From Smiths FallsOn Monday August 27 Smiths Falls Committee of the Whole saw robust debate around an updated council code of conduct.

“Our current code of conduct is 14 years old, is in need of a major refresh and that’s exactly what we did using the expertise of Tony Fleming our newly appointed Integrity Commissioner,” Kerry Costello, director of Corporate Services told council.  Adding that Clerks across the region worked together with the IC to ensure everyone was on the same page.

“It’s clear, concise and just common sense,” said Councillor Jay Brennan.

The document introduces more detail around confidentiality, the general conduct of council around staff, conflict of interest, council interaction with media,  use of town property and council expenses.

“I think it’s a good time to pass this.  If I was just starting on Council in December, I would be grateful to have this,” said Lorraine Allen, councilor.

Not everyone agreed on the timing or necessity for a new code of conduct.

“In my opinion I don’t see what the rush is, we already have a conflict of interest by-law in place, so I think it’s up to the new council to look at this issue not the old council,” said Joe Gallipeau, Councillor.

There is a Provincial Conflict of Interest Act and there is a municipal code of conduct dating back to 2004.  There is no conflict of interest by-law.

The new code also deals with how council may direct the public to making informal or formal complaints.

Another point of debate surrounded the fee for filing a complaint.  The new code details the procedure for formal complaints and sets a fee of $150 for filing a complaint.  If the complaint is found to be legitimate, 50 percent is refunded.

“When it comes to the $150, I agree there has to be something to prevent frivolous complaints, but if it’s legitimate then the whole $150 should be refunded,” Mayor Shawn Pankow, argued.

Most other Councillors agreed and Costello agreed that it would be a small amendment to make.

The role of the IC in investigations, enforcement and sanctions is also detailed in the document.  As Gallipeau pointed out however there was no information as to whether the member subject of a complaint is able to retain council or if there is an appeal process should the member disagree with the decision.

The answer was provided the following day.

“The member may have legal council during the investigation. If the member disagrees with the decision and sanction they can bring an application to the Courts for review – no statutory appeal or Local Planning Appeal Tribunal type of process is provided in the Act,”  wrote Costello in an email to Lake 88.

Since six of the seven members of the Committee supported the new code, with the fee amendment proposed by Pankow, the document will be coming back to council for adoption on Sept 4th.