Penticton council adopts code of conduct

Council code of conduct

Penticton city council has adopted a code of conduct for itself, after some dissent.

At a meeting in January, council heard a staff report following their involvement in a regional working group involving member communities of the Regional District of Okanagan Similkameen.

During several previous meetings and through research on other such models around the province, a draft code of conduct for elected officials was created, which the RDOS voted to adopt in September 2023.

It outlines basic requirements of elected officials — in brief; integrity, respect, accountability, and leadership/collaboration — and proposes escalating financial penalties for council members found to have breached the code.

The goal would be a way to hold elected officials responsible for their actions while in council, interacting with staff and volunteers, the public and media, and their use of gifts and public resources.

It is not intended to handle matters of a criminal nature, such as discrimination, bullying and harassment, which would be handled through the Human Rights Tribunal, according to staff.

Council voted in January to push the matter to a future meeting to allow time for council members to ruminate.

That future meeting arrived Tuesday, Feb. 20, and some on council expressed concerns.

Coun. James Miller wanted an anti-bullying clause added, questioning whether bullying would rise to the level of criminality or the Human Rights Tribunal, and he wanted a dress code added.

He also advocated for solving problems between council members before rising to the level of involving lawyers and financial penalties.

"If there was an issue amongst city councillors that the we would start with the informal process," explained council and executive operations manager Cheryl Hardisty.

"So as you mentioned earlier, a conversation between impacted parties [who were upset], start[s] from there."

Coun. Amelia Boultbee had a number of problems.

"One of the reasons I can't vote for this code is that there's no appeal process. I have problems with some of the timelines that are included. I also have a problem with the fact that anyone who has to retain their own lawyer has to come up with their own money out of pocket and seek reimbursement from the people who are potentially sanctioning them. And if there's a previous breach of the policy found, if you're subsequently innocent the second time, you can't get any reimbursement. It can be very, very expensive for people, not a lot of city councillors have five or $10,000 to hire a lawyer," Boultbee said

"I'm not going to go through every single one of the procedural problems with this code. I think it's poorly drafted. It could have been a good starting point for us and a point of discussion."

Coun. Campbell Watt said he supported the code of conduct, with the caveat that this is a living document that council will continue to edit.

"If council wants to adopt this model, certainly at a future date, this could be modified with further direction from council regarding an appeal process, other harassment or discrimination elements. Any of that was could be could be done as well," Hardisty confirmed.

Ultimately, the motion passed and the code of conduct was adopted, with Couns. Miller and Boultbee opposed.

Later in the meeting, Coun. Miller once again raised the idea of a dress code for council, stating his intent to bring forward a notice of motion at a future council meeting.

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