By Matthew Liebenberg
For the Southwest Booster
The City of Swift Current’s expanded code of ethics bylaw includes additional requirements and procedures to guide the behaviour and conduct of council members in their role as elected officials.
Council members approved a notice of motion during a regular City council meeting on May 1 to advise the public of their intention to adopt a new code of ethics bylaw. The formal vote on the new bylaw was scheduled to take place at the May 15 council meeting.
The new bylaw will apply to all members of council and to members appointed to boards and committees of council. Council members expressed support for the new bylaw during a discussion at the May 1 meeting.
Councillor Ryan Plewis said it is becoming increasingly important for council and the City to adopt these sorts of policies, because the City continues to look for revenue sharing opportunities and grants from other levels of government.
“They want to ensure that we have these kinds of policies in place internally to make sure that things are happening on the up and up in a way that they probably expect them to happen,” he mentioned. “So certainly, something that we need to continually look at and I wouldn’t be surprised if we continue to update it over the course of the next couple of years, as it’s probably proper.”
Mayor Al Bridal also felt that changing circumstances will make it necessary for these code of ethics principles to be reviewed on a regular basis.
“I’m sure this is one that every few years could be looked at and updated,” he said. “I mean, who would have thought 20 years ago we’re going to have to worry about Facebook and Twitter, and yet those are major things in our life and we have to make sure that we have things like that.”
City Clerk Jackie Schlamp provided details about the new bylaw after the council meeting. She noted the City’s current code of ethics bylaw was adopted in 2017. It became necessary to create this bylaw after the provincial government made changes to the Cities Act in 2015 to introduce rules about conflict of interest and council member code of ethics.
The Cities Act provides the legal framework for the governance of cities in Saskatchewan. Another amendment to this provincial law was made in 2020 to clarify the definition of conflict of interest.
“Now we are expanding this bylaw to make sure that council adheres to the expected ethical standards and values for all members,” she said. “It’s used as a guide for behaviour respecting obligations when fulfilling their duties. It establishes and provides for procedures for investigations should something ever arise or enforcement if those standards or values are breached.”
The City of Swift Current consulted with other cities after the 2020 amendments to the Cities Act and concluded that changes are necessary to the code of ethics bylaw.
“We have determined that the need for the integrity commissioner still exists, but we also need to identify things that are stated within our strategic plan and pull those into council’s code of ethics bylaw as well,” she said.
The new bylaw is therefore much more detailed. It refers to standards and values that must be upheld.
“We have to ensure that as an elected official for the City, that you’re adhering to the most ethical standards in the way that they’re conducting City business or members of committees are conducting business on behalf of the City,” she said.
It refers to transparent, accountable and good governance, as well as the requirements for dealing with confidential and personal information. There are sections in the bylaw about respectful conduct, communication with the public and media as well as the use of social media.
A section about property includes guidelines about accepting gifts or other benefits, as well as the use of City assets, resources and services. There is a section about improper use of influence and a detailed section about elections and campaign activities.
“This is something that is currently in our general election bylaw, but we are tying a portion of it together within the code of ethics bylaw for council as well,” she noted.
The bylaw provides details about the appointment and role of an integrity commissioner, who is responsible for investigating any complaints of ethical breaches. There is already a requirement under the existing bylaw for an integrity commission and Harvey Lomax, a former RCMP officer, is the current appointee.
The final part of the new bylaw sets out the complaint procedure and the process for investigations and reporting. Any local resident can submit a complaint on a formal form to the City clerk or City solicitor. There is a submission fee of $100, which will be refunded if the integrity commissioner determines there is sufficient grounds for an investigation or that the complaint was made in good faith, even if there are insufficient grounds for an investigation.
The submission fee will not be refunded if the integrity commissioner finds that the complaint is frivolous or not made in good faith.
The integrity commissioner will prepare a report after an investigation and the findings will be submitted to City council for review. Council is responsible for imposing any sanctions or corrective actions proposed in the report when there is a violation of the code of ethics bylaw. The investigation process and report will remain confidential until council responds to a report, which will be done in a public meeting and the report will then be available to the public.