Council commits $40K for integrity commissioner

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Actual costs uncertain as city aims for March hire

The city will hire an integrity commissioner in March at an initial cost of $40,000 to handle formal complaints against city councillors.

The funding is already part of the proposed 2018 budget and will be taken from the council contingency budget. However, the true cost of the Office of the Integrity Commissioner won’t be known until the city knows how many complaints the commissioner will receive, how complex the complaints are and what rate the commissioner will charge.

“Quite frankly … although we have initial funding in place, we really don’t have any certainty as to what the actual costs will be,” said chief legislative officer Chris Belke.

The city will issue a request for proposals to retain an integrity commissioner on a fee-for-service contract basis starting March 1. The successful applicant will need to meet several criteria, including proven impartiality, neutrality and high ethical standards; knowledge of municipal law and governance; and having no official dealings or employment with the city.

On Monday, councillors voted unanimously to approve three readings of a bylaw governing the integrity commissioner, as well as a motion to have city staff draw up a request for proposals.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said the integrity commissioner would provide an impartial voice on council investigations and would help councillors avoid picking sides on an issue.

“This is a necessary component to making sure any concerns are dealt with in a professional and impartial manner,” she said.

The request for proposals will be open to individuals and organizations. Although the integrity commissioner bylaw states council shall appoint the commissioner, councillors agreed to pass that role to city staff.

Coun. Ken MacKay said although he understands someone has to decide the winning bid, he isn’t happy with the selection process.

“I wouldn’t be comfortable (picking),” he said. “I’m even maybe uncomfortable with administration picking it as well. Somebody’s got to pick it but it could be a community member.”

While the integrity commissioner will review and investigate complaints, they will not serve as an ethics adviser to council. Belke said that would require a broader scope of responsibility, although he added some cities such as Calgary do have an ethics adviser as well.

Belke said if councillors decide, they could include an ethics adviser at a later date as a separate entity in order to avoid conflict of interest or bias.

“We would have to look at doing that as a separate body from the integrity commissioner because if you have the same person, they would be providing advice to a member of council on how to address a situation, and if a complaint came in on that (they) would be judging essentially on the advice they gave,” he said.

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April Hudson