My View – Code of Conduct… Help or Hindrance?
By Bill French – Springwater News
I attended the Springwater Council meeting last week as the first reports from the newly hired Integrity Commissioner (IC) were on the agenda.
As a bit of background, the Ontario Government passed legislation requiring municipalities to have a Code of Conduct dealing with four matters. The regulation is less than half a page and says Codes must deal with Gifts, Benefits and Hospitality; Respectful Conduct toward officers and employees; Confidential information and Use of Property of the Municipality.
I am not sure if the IC got paid by the word or page, but the Township Code is 30 pages and goes far beyond the legislation, opening the door to frivolous and vexatious complaints, which I believe in this case made Councillor Hanna a victim of injustice.
The first IC report on the Council agenda dealt with a complaint about improper conduct of Mayor Allen at the County Golf Tournament. The IC reported that since criminal charges have been laid in relationship to the incident, their investigation was being suspended as required under the Act.
The second report was much more intriguing, as it dealt with complaints against Councillors Hanna, Moore and Cabral. The Report noted that the complaints against Moore and Cabral had no basis and they did not breach the Township’s Code of Conduct. Hanna was accused of improper behaviour because he said that he was not attending the Staff Appreciation BBQ this year and that staff should be serving Councillors instead. If anyone knows Mr. Hanna, he has jokingly said that every year since he was elected and has actually served at the Appreciation BBQ on 8 occasions and when he was under the weather one year his wife Lori filled in.
I was shocked, that comment was the basis of the Code complaint. More surprising the complaint was filed by the outgoing CAO who never saw eye to eye with Mr. Hanna and more importantly did not witness the conversation. Thank God at least 5 members of Council in a recorded vote rejected the receiving of the report recommending that Councillor Hanna be reprimanded. Councillors Cabral, Ritchie, Chapman, Moore and Hanna rejected the Report but astonishingly the heads of Council Mayor Allen and Deputy Mayor Coughlin supported the Report that I am sure cost a few thousand of taxpayers dollars.
I suggest you ask our leaders why they were interested in extending the farce. I do find it a concern that the IC Report is now part of the public record on the Township website but the statements made by Hanna, Cabral and Moore can only be viewed on the YouTube video recording of the Council Meeting.
I would suggest the three of them request through a motion on a Council Agenda to have their statements listed as correspondence and highlighted on the township filing system. My problem starts with the Code itself which I expect will be misused for the next 3 years with petty complaints and will cost the taxpayer tens of thousands of dollars.
Typically in a democratic system, laws such as the Code of Conduct are created by the legislative body which in this case is Springwater Council. They create bylaws all the time. I don’t understand why the Township allowed the Judicial or Adjudicative Body, in this case the Integrity Commissioner, to author the Code of Conduct that far exceeds the requirements under the provincial legislation.
Council did discuss the draft on a couple of occasions and made some minor changes, but the bulk of the Code was created by the IC. Why did Council not develop their own Code as was started in the last term of Council? Since the IC created the Code, doesn’t the process itself now lack integrity, by having the Integrity Commissioner act as the Legislator, the Prosecutor, the Judge and the Jury in a matter that costs the Township thousands of dollars for something that does not add one dollar of value or protect the wellbeing of the residents of Springwater?
I also find it highly unusual or at least concerning that the CAO, who is supposed to be the first avenue of resolution in a Code Complaint, launched the complaint based on hearsay? Why didn’t the CAO, since he had a direct conflict of interest by launching the complaint, delegate to someone else such as the Acting CAO or Clerk to see if it could be dealt with before referring the matter to the IC? Since he did not, is this not potentially an abuse of power or process? Shouldn’t complaints be only accepted from individuals directly affected or witnessed to ensure integrity and authenticity with the complaint?
I also find troublesome two items in the IC Report itself. Point 31 states “the burden of proof to be met is a balance of probabilities” and words like “more likely than not” are used and that the threshold is lower than the standard of proof found in what would be considered natural justice and procedural fairness which is “beyond a reasonable doubt”.
Councillor Hanna was not proven guilty of anything but in point 33 in the report it states “more than likely than not that the Councillor made the comments”. I do not see where Council actually agreed to that low standard of proof anywhere in the Code itself. Is that even logical? The allegations in the Hanna, Cabral and Moore Complaint appear to be based on broad comments about staff in general and not directed at any individual.
Is the Code not intended to deal with real actual discourteous or disparaging comments about a specific individual who may feel harassed or intimidated? If not, does this not open the flood gates to use the Code as a weapon against someone you don’t like on Council, such as happened to Councillor Hanna?
I suggest Council take charge, pull out the comparison charts we developed in the last term and create a new Code of Conduct that deals with real issues such as Harassment, Intimidation, Verbal Abuse, Excessive Spending, Leaking Confidential Information or Using Township property for personal benefit, as those Complaints should be dealt with in an appropriate manner and reprimanded accordingly. But allowing frivolous complaints to be launched and used as a weapon because someone makes an offhand comment or simply doesn’t like or doesn’t trust someone is not something the ratepayers of Springwater should be funding.
Bill French served as mayor of Springwater from 2014 to 2018.