Mayor Heather Jackson’s announcement at the close of Monday’s council meeting is, if anything, long overdue. In fact, her first step in establishing a code of conduct for city council is a process that should have been jump-started ten years ago during the bitter debate over a new twin-pad arena for St. Thomas.
If you ever bump into former alderman Sharon Crosby, have her recount the tale of why she didn’t cast a vote on the final arena motion.
What prompted Heather’s motion to initiate a code of conduct – among several factors – is the drip, drip, drip of leaked information trickling out from in-camera council meetings.
That is why she has turned to CAO Wendell Graves and Human Resources Director Graham Dart to craft a binding document designed to keep this and future councils on the straight and narrow.
“We’re certainly not the City of Toronto,” Heather told City Scope this week in reference to their loose cannon of a mayor, “but we all face similar issues. We’ve got the Ontario Municipal Act and the oath of confidentiality.”
Having said that, the Municipal Act contains little in the way of teeth should a community find itself dealing with out-of-line elected officials.
“Even this week there’s been another piece of information given to somebody . . . and they’re not even leaking the right information.”
Not like the arena debate days when an envelope would be waiting at city hall for a Ross Street businessman to pick up and familiarize himself with the comings-and-goings of closed door meetings.
“You can’t do anything,” advises a frustrated mayor of the latest indiscretions of a brazen alderman. “There is no method of reprimanding or censuring any member of council for something like that.
“So that’s a key part of it (motivation for a code). With a code of conduct there has to be repercussions. Some times just having that in there is all you need.”
Disciplinary options for misbehaviour could include suspension of pay, removal as chairman of a committee and censuring from closed session meetings, Heather advises.
Another area of concern for the mayor is the declaration of a conflict of interest by members of council.
“The municipal act is specific in that it only deals with financial matters and if there are areas that should be looked at as a perceived conflict of interest, that should be in a code of conduct as well.
“And also, behaviour in public when you are representing the city. How you conduct yourself is very important.”
She would like to see a draft version of the code in the spring.
“The sooner we can get this in place and get council to support it, I think the better. In this day and age, everybody talks about accountability and being transparent and if you look at the Municipal Act and you think there is a member of council that has done something wrong, as a member of the public you have no recourse.
“And even as a council we are grappling with a member of council who is continually leaking confidential information and there is nothing we, as a council, can do. It’s frightening they would do that as a representative of the taxpayers.”
In the process discrediting the position they were elected to and thumbing their nose at the electors who put them there.
Mix ego with personal gain and add copious amounts of alcohol and you have a ticking time bomb.
PROUD TO WEAR IT
If you remember at this time last year, my Christmas rant about greetings from politicians and organizations – some of whom I have never heard of – which wish me “Happy Holidays,” “Best wishes for this festive season,” “All the best at this special time of the year,” and the totally bland “Seasons Greetings” struck a chord in the right place as a pair of tell-it-like-it-is “It’s OK to say Merry Christmas to me” buttons landed on my desk.
It was Mike Butler and the Knights of Columbus who graciously provided me with visual support to remind people I recognize the time of year we are observing.
Beginning mid-month, I proudly sport the buttons to put those around me at ease – I am not offended at the mention of Christmas, which is the occasion I am celebrating with so many others,
And, I am pleasantly surprised at the number of people who have taken the time to wish me a Merry Christmas.
Now, that is the true spirit of this festive, winter holiday season.
A CHRISTMAS WISH TO YOU
And, on that note, as this is the last go-round before Wednesday’s celebration of Christmas, we put forth the following gift suggestions for you to distribute in appropriate fashion.
To your enemy, forgiveness. To an opponent, tolerance. To a friend, your heart. To a customer, service. To all, charity. To every child, a good example. To yourself, respect.
And, to all faithful City Scope readers, especially those with birthdays at this whirlwind time of year, when your special day too often is lost in the hustle and bustle of the season – may this Christmas bring you peace, health and happiness.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“There is a silver lining to the dark cloud of last week’s events, however, and that is this demonstration by our community we are a community, not just a city. We are neighbours who help our neighbours, we are strangers who help out strangers in need.”
St. Thomas Fire Chief Rob Broadbent, in a letter to the Times-Journal, thanks residents of the city for their support and assistance during a spate of fires this month.
City Scope appears Saturday in the Times-Journal. Questions and comments may be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org.Follow @ianscityscope