It may have been prepared on their behalf, but members of White Rock council have made it clear they see no need for a new code of ethics and conduct.
That document, prepared by city staff at the behest of Mayor Wayne Baldwin, got a resounding thumbs-down from councillors at a governance and legislation committee meeting Monday evening. Councillors said they were not prepared to sign the document, noting that council already has a respectful workplace policy in place and that they feel that basic rules for members’ conduct are already covered by their oath of office.
“This is all very well in theory, but when you put it in practice, it doesn’t work,” Coun. Helen Fathers told the committee. “We should be sticking by the principles of our oath of office.”
Baldwin confirmed after the meeting that the impetus for the document came following “complaints about how the respect level could be higher” among council members.
“It’s something that had been talked about for some time and I finally got my act together and did it,” he said, acknowledging that without support it would go no further.
“If council wants to take it on, that’s fine – if it doesn’t, that fine too,” he told councillors during the meeting.
Contacted following the meeting, several councillors confirmed the document – which hews to a sample code prepared by George Cuff, a former Alberta mayor and governance expert who holds workshops across Canada – was not requested by them, and that they had not seen the wording in advance.
“There was no motion by council for this,” Coun. Lynne Sinclair told Peace Arch News Tuesday.
The code, among other provisions, would have had councillors channel all complaints and concerns about decisions of council or actions of administration through the office of the chief administrator, seek input from the administrator when they were unsure of issues or courses of action, and not make any criticism of the administration, publicly or privately, in which individual employees are identified.
Sinclair had asked city manager Dan Bottrill how many other municipalities had signed similar documents and how the code would be enforced. Bottrill said he could not supply a number of municipalities that had endorsed such a code.
“Enforcement would be a personnel matter, depending on the severity of the issue,” he said, adding that it would be enforced by council in closed meetings.
Responded Sinclair: “I think this will just impose a whole new layer of rules that are not being observed and not being followed,… I’m concerned because I think it isn’t conducive to positive council relationships – which I think is the intent… Each one of us signed an oath of office which is absolutely clear.”
Coun. David Chesney said he was “rather shocked” by the appearance of the document, noting the existing respectful-workplace policy.
“I have no intention of signing (such a) code of ethics, tonight, tomorrow or any other day,” he said.
Said Coun. Megan Knight: “I took my oath of office when I was elected…. As I look over these pages I don’t see (these rules) being enforced. Why should I need to put my name to this?”
Coun. Grant Meyer, too, said that signing an oath of office and adhering to a respectful workplace policy should be enough.
“I try to treat staff with respect and fellow members of council with respect,” he said Tuesday. “There are polite ways to disagree.”
Coun. Bill Lawrence, who chaired the meeting, didn’t offer his opinion.