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Council rejects new code of conduct

By Allan Benner, The Standard
Thursday, December 14, 2017

After more than a year of discussion on developing a new code of conduct for regional councillors, they ultimately decided to stick with the one they have.

During a poorly attended special council meeting Thursday, councillors spent about three hours discussing the proposed code of conduct with their integrity commissioner Edward McDermott, only to vote 10 to 7 against adopting it.

As a result, Chair Alan Caslin told councillors the existing code of conduct, adopted in 2013, would remain in place.

“Council decided not to change the code as it was recommended by the IC (integrity commissioner), so we'll stay with the existing code that we have,” he said.

The main sticking point in the proposed code of conduct was the definition of “official capacity,” which was one of several revisions made by the Region's procedural bylaw committee.

Welland Mayor Frank Campion, for instance, said it's impossible for elected officials to separate themselves from their official positions.

“If you're at the Region, everything you do is scrutinized,” he said.

By attempting to make changes to protect themselves from being held accountable during specific scenarios, he said all politicians can do at this point is ... “mess it up.”

“The concept of official capacity to restrict when you're actually a councillor and not a councillor is impossible,” added Welland Coun. Paul Grenier.

“The idea to suggest that somehow that's going to make it easier for us to inoculate ourselves against any complaints is absurd.” he said.

St. Catharines Coun. Kelly Edgar agreed, saying he cannot support the code that has limitations within it.

Niagara Falls Coun. Selina Volpatti, who worked with Grimsby Coun. Tony Quirk to revise the draft code of conduct, said the public holds councillors to account for their actions when casting their ballots at going to the polls.

St. Catharines Coun. Bruce Timms agreed, saying the code should only be used to judge the behaviour of councillors while they're acting in their official capacity.

“I think that needs to be limited to that scope,” he said.

“I don't see how this group (council) can judge me at my church, or at my local pub. That is the job of the public.”

McDermott said he reviewed the proposed document, and made a few small revisions, but never intended to rewrite the full document.

“It was not my role or position to start making a new document from scratch, because the Region had already spent a considerable amount of time effort and money to get the document to where it was at that point in time,” he said. “There was absolutely no point in trying to repeat the process by asking me to undertake the creation of a code which someone suggested would be the best in the world.”

Nevertheless, McDermott told councillors he did make a change to the definition of official capacity to allow room for interpretation.

“I take full responsibility for that (change) because I thought it was too narrow,” McDermott said.

Several councillors, however, felt the change McDermott made went too far.

Timms said the wording of the definition should have been left unchanged.

“It still leaves us open to the code of conduct on our daily lives as well, outside the business of this council,” he said.

Niagara Falls Coun. Bart Maves complained that the proposed code is trying “to put a standard and handcuffs on us, so I can't express myself.”

While some people might be offended, he said “it's part of the process that someone gets animated, that someone gets creative, that someone gets colourful, that someone gets a little annoyed or irritated while making a point.”

He said “that's what democracy is and that's what democracy should be and it's served us pretty good.”

“And we're trying to stop it,” Maves added.

Welland Coun. George Marshall was opposed to the idea of having the code in place, saying it would “create more harm than good.”

“We're trying to refine the legislation of commonsense. We don't need that,” he said.

The meeting was delayed by about 20 minutes, while councillors awaited enough members to meet quorum of 16 councillors. An additional two councillors arrived later during the meeting for a total of 18.

The attendance was a concern for St. Catharines Coun. Tim Rigby.

“We have a lot of good people who aren't sitting at their chairs because this meeting was never scheduled in our long range plan,” he pointed out. “We're being asked to ignore those people, and move this forward.”

Note: Timms supports new code of conduct council says no
Last Modified: December 17, 2017 09:24 AM
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Code of Conduct Niagara Regional Councillors

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