GRAVENHURST - Save a lone voice calling it a “gag” law on the public body, council has approved a new code of conduct for itself.
“This policy as drafted should be turned down,” said Lola Bratty during debate in chambers Sept. 4. “Frankly, I view this draft policy as one more example of removing any meaningful role for the council and public in input to and in the decision-making and direction of Gravenhurst.”
“Its espoused goal is open and accountable local government and what it gives us is closed, staff-run municipal government,” she added, saying through the Municipal Government Act and several other municipal conduct acts, council already has a policy to follow without creating its own.
“(The policy goes) beyond existing legislation and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms … it limits the ability of council to question staff as to the basis of their recommendations and reports.”
She said in light of two investigations against her (see related story on this page), her fellow councillors should be concerned about similar accusations, referring to a section that specifically details grounds for harassment against council.
“The code of conduct reinforces the use of harassment (accusations) to silence council,” she said. “I view this as a gag law on council and I would question if we even have the right to do this; it should be council that’s in charge.”
She explained her concern with that section is that she believes it limits a councillor’s ability to question or direct staff, as the policy states “only council as a whole has the capacity to direct staff members.”
“Harassment is based on a feeling, not on any objective criteria. Is that what council wants?” she posed. “This section is, in my opinion, an attempt to limit necessary inquiry about municipal business and limit good council decision-making. I think this document is going to hang this council and future councils. I don’t object to the need, I’m just saying this document does not address (the needs).”
“Council should know from information received from the Canadian Civil Liberties Association that it is important that a council member be able to speak freely on matters of public interest,” Bratty added. “In the two investigations I have spoken (about) it appears to me that the opposite of this free public speech is being attempted.”
Her peers on council did not agree, however, and the policy was put in place in a recorded voted, with only Bratty opposed.
“We’re probably one of the only municipalities that do not have a code of conduct (for council),” Mayor Paisley Donaldson said. “It was a long time overdue. Right now council has no consequences, it’s like we’re the almighty god and can treat people the way we want and we can say what we want with no repercussions.”
“With this in place, there is some discipline,” she added.
“To me, this is a minimal expectation on behalf of the ratepayers,” added Coun. Joe Donoghue. “I have no issues with this; it’s a commitment on behalf of ourselves and the ratepayers.”
CAO Frank Miele said the code of conduct issue arose when it was recommended through an investigation against Bratty that the town update its employee code of conduct policy and enact one for council, which had never existed locally before.
“I was actually a bit stunned when I found out the municipality doesn’t have a code of conduct for council; it’s quite a standard thing now,” he said.
He said the portion of the policy that outlines consequences for council misconduct is more thorough than most and ranges from open reprimand in council to outright removal from council and committees.
“I think we have a code of conduct that council required,” he added. “We are not the first nor will we be the last to have a code of conduct.”
The code came into effect upon passing and is available for viewing through the town’s website at gravenhurst.ca.