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Red Deer city council updates code of conduct

City plans to hire joint integrity commissioner and ethics advisor

Red Deer city council supported the creation of a joint ethics advisor and integrity commissioner in an updated Code of Conduct Bylaw.

Administration recommended that a law firm be chosen for the position, which would offer advice on ethics issues and undertake investigations into potential code of conduct breaches. The commissioner would be retained for a five-year term.

The cost was estimated at about $105,000 per year, including $33,000 for ethics advice, $60,000 to oversee and investigate code of conduct complaints and $12,000 for workshops and educational sessions. Council will decide how to fund the position during the next budget talks.

The updated Code of Conduct, passed unanimously by council on Monday, outlines the behaviour expected of every member of council.

“No Member shall speak or act in a manner that is discriminatory to any individual based on the person’s race, religious beliefs, colour, gender, gender identity, gender expression, physical disability, mental disability, age, ancestry, place of origin, marital status, source of income, family status or sexual orientation, or any other protected ground of discrimination included in the Alberta Human Rights Act.”

Should a complaint be received, the code allows the Integrity Commissioner to determine whether a formal investigation is required or whether issues between a complainant and counsellor can be handled informally, possibly by engaging a mediator or requesting an informal dispute resolution process. The mayor and council will be removed from the initial intake process, leaving it up to the commissioner to receive and manage complaints.

“Certainly the ability to have an informal resolution is extremely valuable and it was encouraging to see that,” said Mayor Ken Johnston.

He was also pleased that the code calls for a temporary blackout period with no complaints processed 90 days before an election to avoid it becoming part of the campaign.

Coun. Bruce Buruma noted that the current council has seen two Code of Conduct complaints (four since 2020) against councillors, which highlights the importance of having a process to deal with issues when they arise.

“I think in many ways it profiles the challenges this office holds. There’s a high level of expectation of integrity,” he said.

He also likes that there is an informal process available, which may be better suited to address some issues.

“The other thing is it is not in the hands of council itself. Having an integrity commissioner, they’re the ones who are going to do (reviews) and they will bring a professional and skilled lens to that.”

Coun. Victor Doerksen unsuccessfully proposed an amendment that would remove the commissioner’s advisory role to avoid the potential for climbing costs if there were many councillor requests for advice.

“For me, this part of the position is where all the costs will come,” said Doerksen.

Several councillors warned though that paying for important advice early on may save money down the road.

“I do see this as proactive and a good investment,” said Buruma.

Coun. Michael Dawe agreed. “I think there’s a great benefit to having an independent person you can seek advice from and there’s meat on that advice.”

Another amendment that passed will notify complainants that their names made be made public if an investigation is launched unless the commissioner decides not to on the grounds of personal safety, for instance.

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Paul Cowley

About the Author: Paul Cowley

Paul grew up in Brampton, Ont. and began his journalism career in 1990 at the Alaska Highway News in Fort. St. John, B.C.
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