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Sackville Tribune - 2020-03-25

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Council establishes code of conduct bylaw for elected officials

OBITUARIES/COMMUNITY

KATIE TOWER SACKVILLE TRIBUNE POST

SACKVILLE, N.B. – A new code of conduct for members of town council has been implemented in Sackville, providing guidance to elected officials on how they should go about performing their duties in office. But the new legislation didn’t come without concerns, as a couple of councillors expressed unease over what they say are “grey areas” in the bylaw, leaving some items up to interpretation. Coun. Shawn Mesheau suggested a number of amendments during council’s monthly meeting for areas of concern he felt needed to be addressed. One related to the ‘principles and values’ section, which states that members of council should “observe the highest standards of ethical conduct and perform their duties in office, and arrange their private affairs in a manner which promotes public confidence and will bear close public scrutiny.” Mesheau believes the “ar range their private affairs” reference doesn’t provide enough clarity in its wording and thinks it should be removed. “It seems to be a grey area there,” he said. Coun. Andrew Black, however, who sits on the bylaw and policy liaison committee, argued that the wording simply means that, in their daily lives, councillors should be holding themselves to the same standards that they would when they’re sitting in office. “As a councillor, I can never take that hat off,” said Black. “So for me, to be held accountable for my actions in office and outside of this room, I think is important.” Mesheau also raised concerns over the ‘communication tools’ section. He pointed out that the municipality does not provide communication tools, such as cell phones or laptops, to members of council, so he questions how that would come into play – and whether the town could retrieve information from personal cell phones or computers. It was explained that electronic communication can be accessed through the town’s servers and retrieved under the Right to Information and Protection of Privacy Act. The new code also warns about being “judicious” in the use of social media, including what individual councillors post. The town of Sackville has had a code of conduct policy in place for about 10 years, but new requirements under the local governance act are asking municipalities to update those types of policies into bylaws. Coun. Bill Evans applauded staff for the work they put into preparing the bylaw, saying he supports this type of legislation, which he calls an improvement over the existing policy, and is delighted “it’s finally come to fruition.” “I think that it’s really important that council hold itself to a higher standard than not just breaking the law,” he said. Evans did call for two areas in the bylaw to be strengthened, recommending amendments on the ‘gift’ section as well as on provisions which state elected officials not interfere with matters of administration. But Coun. Bruce Phinney took exception to the wording that prohibits council from giving direction to town staff, saying it’s unacceptable. “The code of conduct that we’re putting in place to me, and this is my personal opinion, is to kind of keep everybody quiet,” said Phinney. “We already know exactly we can’t tell the staff what to do, we can’t tell the CAO what to do, but we can bring to their attention our concerns. That’s how I feel.” Coun. Mike Tower argued, however, that the new code doesn’t stop councillors from raising concerns to management staff, but simply provides clear direction to prevent them from interfering in the day-today administration of the town. “I don’t believe the intent of that is that we don’t talk to staff … I don’t believe the intent is for me to shut my mouth and not say anything,” said Tower. Coun. Allson Butcher agreed with Tower. “This is suggesting that we would say that no individual member of council shall instruct or give instruction to (staff),” said Butcher. “It doesn’t say we can’t talk to people or that we can’t provide an opinion or discuss things with them.” She said she likes the new wording because it provides “clear guidelines on how we can communicate with staff.”

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