Council revising its Code of Conduct Bylaw

by Colin Smith

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Workplace harassment, sexual harassment and violence, as well use of social media, are among the issues to be addressed in a revised version of town council’s code of conduct.

A bylaw incorporating changes to the current code of conduct was given first reading by council on Tuesday.

The draft presented by administration and based on previous Council discussion at a committee of the whole meeting, included suggestions and new section requests put forward at council’s January 18 committee of the whole meeting.

There are new sections dealing with social media and with workplace harassment, sexual harassment and violence.

There are also amendments to the formal complaint review process, including the establishment of an administration relations committee to handle such matters.

The council code of conduct bylaw provides for both informal and formal complaints processes.

If the revisions to the bylaw are accepted, in the formal process all complaints about the conduct of council members are to be addressed to council and the administration relations committee, which may appoint an investigator or adjudicator in the matter.

“I think the administration relations committee is a really good idea for this,” said Councillor Ray White. “I think that handling some of this stuff in-house is a lot easier and less messy than involving an outside third party.

“I think creation of this is going to be beneficial going forward not just for this council but for councils in the future.”

As presented by administration, the new policy on social media would require council members not to publish anything that is “dishonest, untrue, unsubstantiated, offensive, disrespectful, that constitutes harassment, is defamatory or misleading in any way.”

During the discussion Councillor Scott Richardson suggested that the section should include “knowingly ” which Melodie Steele, Morinville’s legislative services supervisor, indicated would be incorporated in the bylaw before second reading.

As well as calling on council members not to discuss matters that are confidential, quasi-judicial or attorney-client privileged on social media, the policy urges them to refrain from posting during meetings.

Other changes are separate and clarified language related to pecuniary – monetary — interest and conflict of interest.

Deputy Mayor Stephen Dafoe, who requested earlier in the term to bring the code of conduct for review, noted that the code of conduct bylaw had not been reviewed for some time, as all bylaws should be.

“I think having a strong bylaw that everybody knows the rules to, and more importantly, everybody has an opportunity and fairness, should there be an internal complaint, should there be an external complaint, whether that is valid or a misunderstanding, is tremendously important,” Dafoe said.

“Not only in relations between council, but between council and administration, and between both sides of the table and the public that we serve.”

The first reading of the bylaw was carried unanimously. Councillor Rebecca Balanko was not present at the meeting.

Councils are required to establish a code of conduct, through a bylaw, by a provision of the Municipal Government Act that came into force in October 2017. A regulation sets out the topics the code must include.

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