Sackville Town Clerk Donna Beal has clarified how complaints will be handled under the new Code of Conduct that governs members of council.
In an e-mail to Warktimes, Beal explains that council, not town staff, will handle complaints.
“Complaints under the Code of Conduct are to be addressed to the Mayor, and if the complaint is against the Mayor, they are addressed to the Deputy Mayor – not staff,” Beal writes.
“Any reported violations of the code are subject to an investigation by Council,” she adds.
The clerk also writes that council may retain an external investigator or seek legal advice depending on the circumstances of individual complaints.
Beal was responding to a series of questions from Warktimes about how the code will operate.
Experts have criticized some of its provisions for restricting or discouraging free speech in sections that govern communications including e-mails and text messages as well as posts on social media platforms such as Facebook.
“No Member shall use social media to publish anything that is dishonest, untrue, unsubstantiated, offensive, disrespectful, constitutes harassment, is defamatory or misleading in any way,” the Sackville Code says in language that is identical to the wording in Moncton’s Code of Conduct.
Critics say words such as “dishonest,” “offensive,” “disrespectful” and “misleading” are vague and open to wide interpretation.
Meantime, the Saint John Code avoids such terms when it says that members of council “shall use communication tools, such as newsletters, websites and social media in a responsible and respectful manner” adding that “members of council shall not engage in or encourage bullying, flaming or shaming of any other social media users.”
The Saint John Code warns against “attacking individuals rather than engaging in constructive discussion or debate.”
Under a provincial regulation passed in 2018, municipalities are required to enact Code of Conduct bylaws that include provisions governing “the use of communication tools and social media by members of council,” but the details are left up to each municipality.
The Woodstock Code of Conduct bylaw barely mentions communication tools or social media:
Members must keep in mind they are always a representative of the Town of Woodstock, including when engaging in social media activities, and Members are encouraged to identify when views expressed are theirs alone and not official Town of Woodstock communication.
electronic communication devices, including but not limited to desktop computers, laptops, tablets and smartphones, which are supplied by the Municipality to a Member, may be used by the Member for personal use, provided that the use is not for personal gain, offensive or inappropriate.
Sigh — the tyranny of the majority — entrenched in a code. It’s like caucus solidarity, but there are no political parties. Was this code developed because one elected official rubbed their fellow officials the wrong way? It really does seem over the top.
It’s becoming ever more clear that this issue has more layers than one might see at first glance.
This is not just about whether or not a certain Councillor released ‘private’ information, more importantly it hinges largely on the very ‘tool’ which was used to impose punitive sanctions on that member.
An essential part of evaluating any such Code is to determine the manner in which it will be interpreted and implemented.
This article clearly points out that Codes developed by other municipalities of similar size use various interpretations on required points in such a document. It is very informative to check those other examples, to gauge how our own fits the overall ‘big picture’.
Our Town Clerk laid out Sackville’s interpretation upon which to base its actions, including the manner in which complaints will be handled, stating: “complaints shall be addressed to the Mayor.”
In the Appendix of this bylaw, which lays out details of the complaint process, we find the following: “All formal Complaints shall be made in writing to Council …”
However, the very next line reads: – “Complaints shall be addressed to the Mayor” … who shall then “… provide all Members with a copy of the Complaint.”
Given these two lines, are we to interpret that a complaint goes ‘only’ to the mayor, and then he/she passes it along to the rest of council? Or is it to be sent to all of Council members, with the message itself being directed to the mayor’s attention?
My inclination would be to follow the latter route – send the email to mayor AND councillors, but address the letter directly to the Mayor. That way all of Council sees the original complaint at the same time, leaving no room for misinterpretations or mishandling.
It’s clear from many recent comments that there are numerous portions of this Code of Conduct which require further analysis and probable updates. Let us hope that going forward this will in fact be regularly examined and improved upon, as Councillor Mesheau mentioned in a comment to a previous article.
Until such time as all members of Council are able to agree that all portions are ‘workable’, it should remain a ‘work in progress’, rather than an ‘approved document’.
On another related note, this new Code of Conduct was brought in at what was to have been the ‘tail end’ of the current Council’s term of office. This questions whether it should have been worded to take effect with the installation of the next set of elected council members. When our current Councillors were elected and sworn in, over 4 years ago now, they agreed to the Code of Conduct in place at that time, so is it really ‘fair play’ to introduce such drastic changes at the very end of their official mandate?
And finally, we need to remember this – the right to file a complaint is not exclusive to elected or hired individuals. Any person has the right to make use of this process. In fact, we citizens have a RESPONSIBILITY to hold all of our representatives accountable for their words and actions – Employees, Councillors, and even the Mayor. It’s time for more people to speak up.
A quick scan of municipalities in New Brunswick shows essentially the same code with some minor changes depending on who did the modifications to the cut and paste job performed. It does make you wonder what the original template was that was used throughout the province.
It’s not just a stifling of democracy in Sackville – it seems well entrenched across the province.
The one common theme seems to treat anything under these bylaws is the secrecy of the investigation process and hearings – is this not a bylaw infraction being investigated?
The Oromocto bylaw at least recognises that current councillors may wish to campaign against the record of decisions made by the council they sit on, which would essentially be impossible with the current Sackville Bylaw.
Section 4.11.4. Hopefully the current council would see fit to amend our bylaw before the next election.
I am concerned about the flooding of our property at 30 Princess street from the recent rain. The lower part of our land is flooded as well as the neighbour’s next to us We have heard that the town planned to put in a Berm on the former Dan Lund land now owned by the town as part of the Waterfowl park to avoid this from happening. This has not happened and we would like to know if it will happen.