Council gives complaint procedure teeth

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St. Albert city councillors have amended their code of conduct bylaw to include more options for sanctions and expanded powers for the integrity commissioner.

The original bylaw passed Aug. 21. Since then the province has released new code of conduct regulations, which city manager Kevin Scoble said required “housekeeping amendments” to the city’s bylaw.

New sanctions that can be imposed on members who break the code of conduct include a letter of reprimand addressed to the member, a requirement to attend training and reduction to remuneration councillors receive.

Existing sanctions include a public apology or reprimand, removal from a committee or as chair of a committee, suspension of remuneration, reimbursement to the city, restricted access to city facilities and staff as well as travel, and restrictions on how councillors obtain documents.

Additionally, the integrity commissioner can now access any documents in the city’s possession, speak to anyone and enter any city work location when investigating a formal complaint.

The amended code also sets out a definition for formal complaints, a requirement for councillors to attend orientation and a provision to extend the 90-day timeline for the integrity commissioner to provide a report on a formal complaint.

‘Subjective terms’

Coun. Wes Brodhead questioned the bylaw’s use of subjective terms such as “malicious,” noting such terms can be open to interpretation.

“What is to one person malicious, to another is just being investigative,” Brodhead said.

“How do you manage that in a public forum so people’s best interests are not trampled on?”

Chief legislative officer Chris Belke said the integrity commissioner would be responsible for interpreting such words.

Councillors also heard there is no specific section dealing with frivolous complaints, but city solicitor Gene Klenke said the commissioner would be responsible for deciding if action is warranted on a complaint.

“That would come out in the recommendations to council, which could also include that this complaint has no merit, for whatever reason,” he said.

Mandatory orientation

The amended code includes a requirement for councillors to attend council orientation and other training. Failure to attend could lead to sanctions.

Coun. Sheena Hughes said councillors had not expressed a desire to see that in the bylaw. However, a modification in the provincial municipal government act (MGA) required the change.

“Really, it’s just part of the MGA requirements now, so we’re just following according to procedures and expectations,” she said.

She said there is value to mandatory attendance at orientation because it gives councillors the assurance all have had the same training.

“You know at what level the new councillors have been briefed. That’s the biggest value,” Hughes said.

“You now understand what level of understanding each person has on each of the topics.”

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April Hudson

April is the editor of the St. Albert Gazette