A Maple Ridge city councillor is warning about the “hidden dangers” of a new council conduct bylaw that was under scrutiny Tuesday afternoon during a committee meeting.
Councillor Kiersten Duncan says she is concerned about many of the document’s details.
“I think it’s very scary. I think it’s very undemocratic, and it’s being used to silence members of council,” said the two-term councillor.
Duncan fears her colleagues feel that she is attacking them personally when, she insisted, she is not.
“I have never tried to attack them. I have always disagreed with council respectfully,” said 27-year-old Duncan.
A summary of the new bylaw, Council Conduct Bylaw No. 7637-2020, explains that council members must conduct themselves in a manner, “that will hold up to close public scrutiny and ensure the office is trusted and respected.”
The proposed behaviour bylaw sets out standards of conduct for council and sets out how complaints of misconduct should be handled, investigated, and penalized, if deemed appropriate.
Duncan is most concerned with the formal complaint process that is spelled out in the document.
The section informs councillors how to file a formal complaint against one or more councillors who they feel are not complying with the bylaw.
It says that the complaint must be made in writing and addressed to a “complaints investigator,” a member of council or subcommittee of council, or a third party investigator – which is selected by council.
Following the receipt of the complaints investigator’s final report, council may then choose to proceed with a hearing for a motion of censure.
The complainant will have a minimum of two weeks to prepare their formal response – in writing– and they can choose to be represented by legal counsel or by another representative at the council meeting where the decision on the motion of censure, including any penalties, may be imposed.
Possible sanctions include: a formal warning letter; a pledge to immediate and ongoing compliance with the bylaw; a letter of reprimand; a request that the council member issue a letter of apology; the publication of a letter of reprimand or request for apology plus the council member’s response; a requirement to attend training; the suspension or removal of the appointment of the member as acting mayor; a restriction on how and when documents are provided to that member, limiting access to certain municipal facilities, requiring the return of municipal property provided for convenience, imposing limits on travel and expenses; a suspension or removal from some or all internal and external committees and bodies to which council or the mayor has the right to appoint members; and any other sanctions council deems “reasonable and appropriate”.
This is a compilation of existing and new approved policies, said Maple Ridge Mayor Mike Morden.
The bylaw also references a series of schedules and appendices that define different elements of the bylaw’s framework, said Morden, such as WorkSafe legislation, the criminal code, and the Charter of Rights and Freedoms.
“Everyone is entitled to their own opinion,” said Morden.
The electorate decided who is serving on council, added the mayor, and council members agreed to assemble a strategic plan and also a code of conduct about, respectful engagement, regardless of opinions, he continued.
“Ultimately this is about respect for the work that we all agreed to do. It’s about accountability, and it’s about delivery of a plan that the people expect us to deliver on because that’s what we all committed to do,” Morden said.
Councillor Gordy Robson was surprised to see the bylaw.
“I don’t think council should be in the position of trying to discipline one of their own members, and I think this bylaw may lead to that,” said Robson.
Councillor Chelsa Meadus is looking forward to the bylaw being implemented and believes it puts mechanisms into place that facilitate a respectful workplace.
However Councillor Ahmed Yousef is opposed to the bylaw. He said the spirit of the code does not build team dynamics.
“The people of Maple Ridge did not elect me to be policemen and judge in one,” said Yousef. “They elected me to look after municipal services and to develop and revitalize our local economy.”
A decision at Tuesday’s committee of the whole meeting was passed by a vote of four to three, and the recommended bylaw will be sent to council for ratification.
Councillors Judy Dueck and Ryan Svendsen did not respond for comment before publication.