St. Albert’s council code of conduct will get some much-needed teeth with the introduction of a new bylaw.
On Monday, council unanimously passed first reading of a bylaw that would replace the existing code of conduct.
The bylaw is being created in advance of changes coming through the Municipal Government Act review that would make code of conduct bylaws mandatory for all municipalities in Alberta.
While St. Albert has a policy speaking to the responsibilities and expectations of council members, the bylaw goes a step further by setting out a way to deal with breaches.
Council has been faced with several contentious issues this term, including the hiring of former councillor Gilles Prefontaine for a senior management position while he was still sitting as a councillor; a governance inspection conducted by Alberta Municipal Affairs; and an application before the courts to have Mayor Nolan Crouse removed from office because of an alleged pecuniary interest.
Not to mention complaints of nasty debate tone, breaches of in camera confidentiality and public comments about unsatisfactory staff performances.
The bylaw encourages members of council to resolve issues privately through informal means, but also sets out a formal complaint process.
Formal complaints must be signed and dated in order to avoid the filing of frivolous complaints, said Michael Sullivan, the city’s consulting lawyer.
The code of conduct bylaw would see the creation of an integrity commissioner’s office to oversee this formal complaint process. This individual or committee would be tasked with investigating formal complaints and making recommendations to council on how to deal with violations of the code of conduct. Ultimately, council would decide on what sanctions, if any, to impose on members.
The new bylaw sets out a list of sanctions that could be used to enforce the code of conduct. This adds teeth to the bylaw, which the former policy did not have. Sanctions range from a public apology to the removal from a committee to the suspension of pay. Council does not have the authority to disqualify or remove a member from their elected position.
Sullivan said that the MGA review would likely stop short of legislating the creation of an integrity commissioner’s office. He said while this concept is new to Alberta (Calgary is the only municipality to have one) this office is required by law in Ontario.
Coun. Sheena Hughes, who voiced concerns about the potential to use the code of conduct to engage in a smear campaign in the past, said the introduction of an integrity commissioner greatly diminished the likelihood of this occurring.
Though council opted to postpone second reading of the bylaw, due to some issues with wording and the potential for a few minor amendments, the majority of council agreed that this council should see the project through to third and final reading in order to set the next council up for success.
The code was “heavily work-shopped” by members of council during two in camera sessions with a consulting lawyer, said Coun. Bob Russell.
The bylaw would come into effect immediately after the Oct. 16, 2017 municipal election. The next council will have the opportunity to review the bylaw after six months.
The bylaw will be brought back to council on Aug. 21 for second reading. Options for the creation of an Office of the Integrity Commissioner, and associated costs, will be presented at a later date.