CITY MULLS NEW CODE
Approach to gifts, bullying part of suggestions
A few weeks after budget talks during which some city councillors questioned others’ behaviour, Saskatoon city council will consider a revised code of conduct.
The code of conduct appears by coincidence on the agenda for Monday’s meeting of city council’s governance and priorities committee. However, several councillors took offence to comments they felt questioned their integrity during the second day of budget deliberations last month.
Here are five highlights of the code of conduct.
1 NO BULLYING
The code includes sections that compel councillors and the mayor to be honest, transparent, respectful, objective and to show leadership. It mandates courtesy toward residents, city staff and other council members, saying they must all be treated with “dignity, understanding and respect.”
Bullying, discrimination and harassment are prohibited. At council meetings, members are expected to make fair decisions and show “respect for differences, and an intention to work together.” Councillors and the mayor are expected to be honest in their communication, which extends to the use of social media.
2 GIVING GIFTS
The revised code intends to introduce tighter rules regarding gifts councillors and the mayor can receive and what they must declare. Generally, council members are not allowed to accept gifts, but there are some exceptions, such as mementoes of events.
The 2012 code of conduct set the bar for acceptance of a gift at $750, which is abnormally high, according to a survey of other Canadian municipalities. Council must decide whether to lower to $100 the threshold for disclosure of a gift — which could include pens, event tickets and food and beverages — or to remove the threshold and require all gifts be disclosed.
3 THE COMMISH
How will these new rules be enforced? The new code recommends an integrity commissioner be appointed to investigate complaints. Anyone who believes the code has been violated by a councillor or the mayor can request an investigation. The commissioner would be appointed by council.
The city solicitor and the city clerk, two of the three positions at city hall that are filled directly by council, screen complaints to decide if they are worthy of an investigation. The integrity commissioner would likely be a part-time position.
4 THE PUNISHMENT
If a councillor or the mayor is found to be in violation of the code of conduct following an investigation, the integrity commissioner can impose sanctions. These include a letter of reprimand, a letter of apology from the member, mandatory training or removal from a council committee.
The wording suggests a wider scope, including “any other censure, sanctions or corrective actions allowed by law.”
5 CRACKING THE CODE
Council members have suggested a few changes to the 35-page code of conduct.
Coun. Randy Donauer questioned the inclusion of a clause that would have meant media inquiries on a certain subject could only be answered by council’s representative for that initiative. Council seems likely to remove that clause.
Coun. Darren Hill also requested changes to the wording of a clause dealing with the handling of money by charitable organizations. Hill said that could make his employment as president and CEO of Junior Achievement Saskatchewan a violation of the code.
Councillors Hilary Gough and Randy Donauer have an exchange during November’s budget deliberations. The city is considering a revised code of conduct.