“Keep it simple” was the message Gibsons Coun. David Croal emphasized as the town’s elected officials endorsed their initial code of conduct at a special council meeting on Feb. 8.
The new code provides standards for professional behavior and accountability for council. Governing how council members interact with each other and staff, it is based on a model developed by a Union of BC Municipalities working group, with a few tweaks introduced by Coun. Annemarie De Andrade. It recognizes that responsible council conduct is based on the principles of integrity, respect, accountability, leadership and collaboration.
De Andrade’s proposals to include language around council’s treatment of the public and openness and transparency in Gibsons’ code were defeated. Mayor Bill Beamish reminded his colleagues that this was “an inward-looking document, not an outward-looking document.” He pointed out that the rights of citizens related to the actions of council are already enshrined in legislation such as the Freedom of Information and Protection of Privacy Act and the Community Charter.
Noting that the model code was drafted for a specific purpose and that making amendments could have the unintended result of making it unenforceable, he said “if we broaden it, it will fail us." Croal agreed, stating he wanted to avoid making Gibsons’ code “so cumbersome that it becomes crippling." Coun. Stafford Lumley was in favour of endorsing the draft presented at the meeting by staff, stating that discussion of a code, which began in mid-2019, “has taken way too long."
Citing the code principle of respect amongst council members, Coun. Aleria Ladwig called for consideration of De Andrade’s proposals. That resulted in the addition of De Andrade’s suggested wording related to “making decisions in the best interest of the community." The phrase “inappropriate and or offensive dialogue” was replaced to match terms in WorksafeBC regulations that refer to “discourse that is indecent, insulting, abusive or consistent with bullying and harassment”. A clause protecting whistleblowers, stating, “Members who bring forward concerns about wrongdoing will be treated fairly and with high standards of integrity,” was inserted.
With amendments made and a code adopted, the mayor noted that Gibsons will be in compliance when Bill 26, the Municipal Affairs Statutes Amendment Act comes into force. That provincial legislation is at first reading. It requires local government councils to consider having a code of conduct and that it be periodically reviewed. It states that if a council decides not to establish a code of conduct or review an existing one, it must reconsider that decision before Jan. 1 of the year of the next general local election.
Sechelt council adopted its code in 2018. It applies to council members and all persons appointed by council to boards, committees, commissions, panels or task forces. Those covered by that code are committed to respect the “role and contribution each person has in making the District of Sechelt a better place to work and live” and to ensure that public business is conducted with integrity, in a fair, honest and open manner." The code forms part of the municipality’s policy manual and is scheduled to be reviewed on an annual basis.
The Sechelt and Gibsons codes are self-enforcing, meaning only those covered by them can enforce them.