The bylaw that governs the behaviour of city councillors is back up for scrutiny at Maple Ridge city hall, and amendments are moving forward despite some strongly worded objections from at least two city councillors.
“It appears to be a control and muzzling bylaw,” said Coun. Gordy Robson. “And just stating those two words is probably a violation of the bylaw we’re about to pass.”
Both he and Coun. Ahmed Yousef said the city should leave the matter of disciplining councillors to the province, rather than having council members handle it themselves, in private meetings.
A resolution from Robson has been accepted by the Union of BC Municipalities, asking the provincial government to establish an Office of Integrity for Local Government. Municipal politicians from across B.C. passed the resolution with a 68 per cent majority at their annual convention in September.
Yousef and Robson prefer to see that process unfold, rather than city council continue its process of investigating and ruling on complaints against its members.
“In this bylaw, it purports to allow you (council members) to be the complainant, the witness, the judge, the jury, and the executioner,” said Robson. “That’s not due process.”
He said the process cannot be fairly handled except by an independent third party.
“It’s also interesting to note that expressing opinions is something that appears to be frowned upon here, unless you express the ultimate opinion of your colleagues at the same time, and do it accurately,” said Robson.
He noted the bylaw requires councillors to control their body language in meetings, and said his own involuntary responses at meetings are sometimes only apparent to him when he watches recordings of meetings afterward.
“I’m going to be judged by four of you when I nod my head. I don’t think that’s going to work either,” said Robson.
“This bylaw is a way for other council members to cause mischief, and I use that term advisedly.”
Robson suggested he might not continue to be on council under such conditions.
“Passing this bylaw will certainly effect the quality of candidate we’re going to get to run for civic office in the future, and it’ll certainly cause me to re-evaluate whether I’m going to be here.”
Yousef was also pointed in his critism, saying he is “philosophically and wholeheartedly opposed to the spirit of this bylaw.
“I don’t see it as a team-building exercise, I see it as rather divisive, and pitting members against each other,” said Yousef.
He expressed concerns that the bylaw limits freedom of speech, where it addresses disparaging comments about other members of council or decisions.
“I wholeheartedly agree with the bit about other members, however council process and decisions… does that limit members’ abilities to be critical of the process, even if in a respectful manner, and being able to disagree with decisions?”
Staff responded that simple disagreement is not offside, and it is important that a councillor offer a disclaimer when commenting in social media, clarifying they are stating their individual opinion.
Yousef noted Robson’s UBCM motion requests the province to take on regulation of city councils, and asked: “Would staff be so kind as to expand on how that will fit in with this particular bylaw we are looking at today? And where there would be gaps from the province that this particular bylaw would fill?”
Staff noted the office of integrity hasn’t “come across the finish line yet,” but council could revise its bylaw at a future date if there are conflicts.
Coun. Judy Dueck said everyone at the table would prefer the province’s oversight, but there are no guarantees.
“Until that happens, I think we continue on,” she said. “There are many cities that have a code of conduct bylaw. We’re not the only one.”
“If we all act in a professional manner, we won’t need to be concerned with what’s in here,” Dueck said. “Think before you act, be respectful, be professional, and it’s not an issue. I don’t know why there’s so much backlash about this bylaw.”
The bylaw was discussed at a council workshop meeting on Oct. 19, and amendments will be brought to a future meeting council’s committee of the whole.
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