Council ‘getting slammed’: deputy mayor

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Jeffrey Abrams, of Principles Integrity, presented the Integrity Commissioner’s Periodic Report to Clearview council on Monday.

Abrams referred to it as “a good news report.”

By educating council on recognizing and avoiding conflicts of interest, maintaining confidentiality around closed session documents and information, and policy development, he said the main objective is to raise the public’s perception that elected andappointed officials conduct themselves with integrity.

“The perception that a community’s elected representatives are operating with integrity is the glue which sustains local democracy,” states the report. “We live in a time when citizens are skeptical of their elected representatives at all levels. The overarching objective in appointing an integrity commissioner is to ensure the existence of robust and effective policies, procedures, and mechanisms that enhance the citizen’s perception that their council (and local boards) meet established ethical standards and where they do not, there exists a review mechanism that serves the public interest.”

From February 2021 to May 2023, Principles Integrity responded to one complaint – which Abrams said was disposed of without any formal investigation or report – and received 16 requests for advice. The circumstances of the complaint and requests for advice are protected by a “statutory cloak of confidentiality.”

“The purpose of this entire scheme is to increase the level of trust, engagement and respect that you get from your constituents. It’s not done in a vacuum. It works together and frankly we think it works very well in Clearview,” said Abrams.

He said council members should stay within their roles and avoid overstepping with staff and other members of council.

“It’s important that members, particularly new members, understand their role,” said Abrams in order to avoid a toxic workplace.

Abrams spoke about Bill 5 The Stopping Harassment and Abuse by Local Leaders Act, which was endorsed by Clearview council and did not pass second reading.

“In our view that’s actually a good thing,” said Abrams.

He said strengthening municipal codes of conduct and the role of integrity commissioners is a more effective way of addressing egregious acts of harassment.

“Removal from office after judicial process may well be warranted in some rare egregious circumstances. However, Bill 5, failed to address the changes which should have come about with the thoughtful conclusion of the province’s 2021 consultation,” states the report. “To remove an elected official from municipal office would require a court process – with the concomitant delays, expense and uncertainties associated with applications to court.”

Codes of Conduct could be enhanced to enable councils to restrict access and privileges of offenders, and possible suspensions to provide protection to victims and potential victims.

“We’re getting slammed more and more by people who feel we have conflicts in different situations,” said Deputy Mayor Paul Van Staveren.

Abrams said the best course of action is to take the concern to the integrity commissioner and if the complainant is unsatisfied, the ombudsman has the option to investigate further, but may decline.

“We can’t really stifle debate out in the public square, we don’t have a key to social media where we can turn it off,” said Abrams.

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