Browse By

Council agrees to new rules

Code of conduct outlines just what is allowed by council and what isn’t

The nine who make up Vaughan’s city council have a new rulebook to play by.

Council voted Monday to adopt the Code of Ethical Conduct for Members of Council, a 32-page document that replaces an earlier code first adopted in 1996.

“This is by far the best and most progressive code of conduct in the country,” said Alan Shefman, councillor and accountability and transparency committee chair. “We’ve got an extraordinary document.”

Prepared by integrity commissioner Suzanne Craig, the new code lays out 21 rules governing everything from conduct at council to confidentiality to influence peddling, and provides the integrity commissioner with some teeth to enforce them.

If the integrity commissioner finds any council member broke the rules, council can then decide to either reprimand the offending member or suspend their pay for up to 90 days.

That’s in addition to other available forms of punishment, which include removal from committees and forced apologies.

Many of the new rules — most of which include commentary explaining their meaning — address the sorts of problems that have mired city hall in controversy in recent years.

“I like (the commentary) because . . . it makes it really easy to read and understand,” Councillor Bernie DiVona said.

The new code isn’t exhaustive but it does provide a blanket rule covering unethical behaviour not explicitly mentioned.

“This is not a set-in-stone document,” Shefman said. “These should be living documents that will evolve over time as we get more experienced and understand how these things work.”

Council approved the ethics code in principle in June but deferred making a final decision on it until this week to allow time for public input.

A workshop explaining the code will be held to ensure all current members of council grasp the new rules. The mayor and councillors will also be asked to meet with the integrity commissioner, sign copies of the code and explain their involvement in community organizations at the start of each term.

“It’s a great start,” DiVona said. “Now we have just to . . . ensure that we don’t deviate from it.”

Some new Vaughan council dos:

What the new code of conduct says members of council should do:

• be committed to doing their jobs with integrity and transparency;
• avoid the improper use of the influence of their office and conflicts of interest, both apparent and real;
• report gifts valued at $500 or more received from a single source in a year to the integrity commissioner within 30 days;
• file a copy of their councillor information statement (detailing the value of gifts or benefits received) with the city clerk every quarter;
• conduct themselves with appropriate decorum at all times and show courtesy in council;
• accurately communicate to the media council decisions, even if they disagree with the decision;
• make every effort to participate diligently in the activities of the committees, agencies, boards and commissions they belong to — this includes good attendance: members can’t be absent for more than three consecutive meetings without reasonable justification;
• encourage public respect for the city and its bylaws;
• carefully adhere to current city, provincial and federal laws.

And new Vaughan council don’ts:

What the code says member of council shouldn’t do:

• include alcohol when expensing meals;
• accept a fee, advance, gift, loan or personal benefit that is connected directly or indirectly with the performance of his or her official duties of office, except as specifically contemplated;
• handle any funds on behalf of any charitable organization or community group;
• disclose or release by any means to any member of the public any confidential information acquired by virtue of their office in either oral or written form — including the content of closed-door meetings — except when required by law or authorized by council: in other words, no leaks;
• use confidential information for personal or private gain or for the gain of relatives or any person or corporation;
• use any city property or services for personal reasons, including during election campaigns;
• contract with the city or any agency thereof for the sale, purchase or rental of supplies, material or equipment;
• borrow money from any person who regularly does business with the city unless such person is a publicly traded institution or company regularly in the business of lending money;
• refer a third party to a person, partnership or corporation in exchange for a kickback;
• attempt to use influence to hire or promote a family member;
• attempt to use a family relationship for personal benefit;
• obstruct the integrity commissioner in the carrying out of her or his responsibilities;
• assume something is allowed just because it’s not a rule in the code.

Vaughan Today
In print: September 25, 2009, page 2
Online: September 24, 2009 [link]