A new set of 18 rules aims to help town councillors navigate the sometimes-complicated situations they may find themselves in through their public service roles.
During a nearly two-and-a-half hour strategic initiatives standing committee meeting discussion on Monday, councillors got a first look at the brand new 2021 Collingwood Code of Conduct, which seeks to incorporate recommendations to tighten up and clarify the rules for councillors, members of committees and local boards based on recommendations out of the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry (CJI).
The initial Collingwood Code of Ethics was created in 2007 and was mostly unchanged until the current Code of Conduct was established in 2015. After the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry (CJI) Report was received by the town in Fall 2020, the town endeavoured to modify the code based on recommendations out of the inquiry.
The new Code of Conduct document now includes 18 specific rules that cover scenarios such as avoidance of conflict of interest, acceptance of gifts, election campaigns, use of town resources, member conduct and the employment of council relatives and family members.
The Code of Conduct also contains commentary for several of the rules to provide additional context and hypothetical practical examples of applying the rules.
To read the entire draft Code of Conduct, click here.
Of the recommendations from the CJI that pertain to the municipality’s Code of Conduct, there are two recommendations that may not make the cut.
Associate Chief Justice Frank Marrocco, commissioner for the Collingwood Judicial Inquiry, recommended in his final report that all elected municipal officials provide an annual financial disclosure of private interests. But this was not recommended for implementation by staff.
According to the staff report written by Michael Trueman, accountability, procurement and risk management manager with the town, staff are not aware that this has been implemented in any other municipality across the province.
“A number of organizations having reviewed the CJI recommendations have also expressed concern about such a requirement for municipal government and the challenges it could create,” noted Trueman. “Collecting personal finance information may also be a deterrent for individuals wishing to run for office. Municipalities cannot enforce this as it is not supported by the legislation.”
Coun. Kathy Jeffery floated the idea of meeting in the middle by possibly requiring councillors to provide a list of interests, while redacting the exact monetary amounts to protect financial privacy.
“You could file that you have a sole proprietorship, or you have a corporation... without stipulating how much it is, just to allow some connections to be made and be on file,” said Jeffery. “It actually is a reminder of the things you have to keep front and centre when considering your declarations and responsibilities.”
Integrity Commissioner Jeffrey Abrams said there is a current public policy debate around the issue.
Marrocco's recommendation that former council members should not accept employment for one year on specific matters on which they worked as an elected official at the Town of Collingwood is also not being supported by staff.
According to the staff report, the Integrity Commissioner confirmed it would be difficult to enforce, as the Code of Conduct has no jurisdiction over former members and could be considered “restraint of trade.”
Jeffery asked about the non-mandatory training that takes place for anyone who runs for office in Collingwood, and whether it could be publicly posted which candidates took the training.
“I think it’s a balance on potential privacy issues,” said clerk Sara Almas. “That’s something we could consider before bringing back a final report.”
Coun. Mariane McLeod asked if a section outlining a member’s role in charitable and community events (Rule 3) would prevent her from acting in volunteer roles such as bartending at Collingwood Curling Club events.
The rule she referenced states money raised through fundraising efforts shall go directly to the groups or volunteers or chapters acting as local organizers of the group and members of council should not handle any funds or cash on behalf of such organizations. McLeod requested the reference to money/cash be removed.
Coun. Kathy Jeffery said that as part of her regular employment she regularly handles cash for a non-profit, so she also had concerns.
“The rule speaks to your role as a member of council. If you’re performing as part of a ‘day job’ and not as a member of council, then the Code of Conduct doesn’t really engage,” said Abrams. “It’s not meant to interfere with your livelihood or endeavours in a private capacity.”
The committee voted to receive the new Code of Conduct.
However, as timing ran short and councillors still had questions and clarifications regarding the document, councillors did not vote to recommend adopting the draft code of conduct, instead opting to defer.
Instead, councillors were asked to email additional questions and comments to staff, who would prepare answers for a special meeting that would be scheduled for later in October.
Further questions and a recommendation to adopt and move to a public consultation process on the new Code of Conduct will also be considered at that special meeting. After that meeting, the recommendation would still need to be ratified by council.