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Comment: Victoria needs an effective, efficient code of conduct

The vast majority of members of the public act in good faith, but there are a few who will abuse the system.
Victoria City Hall on a rainy, winter day. TIMES COLONIST

A commentary by a Victoria city councillor.

The Aug. 4 article “Victoria councillors at odds over who can file a complaint under code of conduct” was good, but in other discussions there seem to be some misunderstandings about cities’ codes of conduct.

The goal of codes of conduct is to improve the conduct of council members — an ongoing need that I have been pointing out for years, and continue to point out. Some cities’ codes are enforced by complaints, and complaints are generally lodged by council members or by council plus staff, with few cities being wide open to having anyone and everyone lodging complaints.

The MNP Governance Report prepared for Victoria has a section on codes of conduct and refers to the Working Group on Responsible Conduct - a joint initiative of the Ministry of Municipal Affairs, the Local Government Management Association of British Columbia, and the Union of British Columbia Municipalities.

The working group report addresses various cities’ codes of conduct, and states:

“Complaints are allowed from any member of the council or board. In some cases, committee members and/ or staff may also make a complaint, and in a few cases, complaints are accepted from ‘any person,’ which would include all of the above as well as members of the public.”

I read out that passage in the council meeting Thursday, and my colleagues on council are well aware of it.

The cities with anyone-and-everyone processes tend to be the larger ones like Vancouver and Toronto, which have more financial resources to manage the system. Smaller cities like Saanich and Abbotsford tend to have council-only or council-plus-staff complaint processes.

The vast majority of members of the public act in good faith, but there are a few who will abuse the system – any system – in an attempt to reverse policy decisions they don’t like, repeatedly harass elected officials, and undo election results they are angry about.

It would be poor governance to waste staff time and taxpayer dollars processing politically-motivated, fabricated complaints. It’s important to filtered out those ones before staff have to deal with them.

In the end, any person with a complaint will be able to bring it forward, to any of the nine members of council, who can then formally lodge the complaint. And there are also all of the mechanisms that members of the public have had for many, many decades — without any code of conduct — emails, phone calls, knocking on the door, voting in elections, attending council meetings, letters to the editor, etc.

Victoria needs a good code of conduct — one that is effective at improving behaviour, and efficient with resources.

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