Brockville has hired its integrity commissioner, but city council must still decide on how complaints will be adjudicated.
While councillors had no issue Tuesday hiring a Kingston law firm to carry out the ethics commissioner’s duties, Mayor Jason Baker said he felt “a little uncomfortable” sitting on a small committee that will determine whether an ethics complaint is considered frivolous.
“I would like council to reconsider the portion where I’m named on a committee that would judge which complaints go forward,” said the mayor.
“I think that’s counter to the intent.”
Last week, council’s finance and administration committee recommended the full council appoint Kingston-based Cunningham, Swan, Carty, Little and Bonham LLP as Brockville’s integrity commissioner, an appointment the full council approved on Tuesday.
New provincial rules require municipalities to appoint an integrity commissioner by March 1.
The new rules, part of amendments to the Municipal Act, also require council to have a code of conduct, something councillors also approved on Tuesday.
The integrity commissioner is an independent and impartial official who reports directly to city council on matters related to the application of the code of conduct for members of council and local boards.
But since any citizen can lodge an ethics complaint, some mechanism is required to prevent a flood of frivolous complaints.
In Brockville, complaints to the integrity commissioner are to be reviewed by a three-person committee made up of the mayor, city clerk Sandra MacDonald and the city manager.
That leaves Baker potentially in the position to decide on the merits of a complaint directed at him.
MacDonald last week said city officials were looking into the matter and hoping to get guidance from Cunningham Swan once the firm is on board.
Council on Tuesday approved the hiring of Cunningham Swan after making it clear that, in Baker’s words, it will soon “tweak the makeup of that committee.”
Baker was not sure Tuesday what changes to the structure he would like to see, modifications that could include a member of the public on the special committee.
Coun. Larry Journal suggested referring the matter back to the finance committee.
“There’s lots of options,” said Journal.
Councillors separately approved a code of conduct for themselves as well as members of committees and local boards.
The rules touch on such matters as gifts and benefits, acceptance of event tickets, confidential matters, the use of city property, members’ conduct at meetings and council’s relations with staff.
Among the code’s many provisions, it states: “Members shall decline any personal gift where the acceptance of such gift would imply a contractual agreement with or obligation to the donor.”
It allows members to accept “tokens, mementoes, souvenirs” or other gifts “that are received as an incident of protocol or social obligation that normally accompanies the responsibilities of office.”
However, any such gift worth more than $100 becomes the property of the city.
As for event tickets, members must disclose all tickets worth more than $50; there is an annual limit of two tickets for up to two events from one source in a calendar year and “accepting any tickets for subsequent events from the same source is prohibited.”
The code of conduct also sets out the complaint process, including the role of the clerk, mayor and city manager in determining whether further review is needed; that clause will now be modified.