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Port Stanley News RSS Feed  Editorials Transparency or Suppression

by Francie Dennison

Mayor Walters says his push to pass a Code of Conduct for Central Elgin Council is a transparency measure, but how transparent is it really when the public has never seen this proposed Code of Conduct and have not been afforded any input into it?

When people are elected to Central Elgin Council they are sworn in using an Oath of Office which, according to a statement made by Councillor Sally Martyn in the March 24, 2014 Council meeting, governs their conduct while they are in office. I can't tell you what the Oath of Office says because, despite numerous requests over the years for a copy of it, I've never seen it and have never been able to find it published on the municipality's website.

Now we don't have a Rob Ford on our Council, someone whose questionable behaviour, that may or may not include criminal behaviour, reflects badly on the municipality. No, in Central Elgin's case the Code of Conduct push came as a direct result of Councillor Russell Matthews questioning certain spending practices engaged in by staff and approved by Council. Over this term Matthews has disagreed with certain spending decisions at budget time, and though out-voted on the issues, nonetheless raised his objections again in Open Council meetings when the issues came before Council for a deciding vote. Neither senior staff nor the rest of Council liked Matthews breaking ranks and "airing the dirty laundry", so to speak.

I don't know who first presented the Code of Conduct idea - whether it was senior staff or a member of Council - but the limited amount of discussion it's received at Council table seems to imply its primary purpose is to muzzle any dissenting Councillors from publicly expressing any opinion on anything that is not the "official" line that Council is taking on the issue, and they want to force all members of Council to abide by this Code. In my book this is the antithesis of democracy, not transparency. It seems more of a move to hide dissent from public view.

We elect our Councillors to represent our best interests and to speak out against anything proposed that they see as going against our best interests. That includes speaking out publicly and keeping us informed. That is their job, yet it seems this Code of Conduct would remove that entirely.

On March 24, 2014 Mayor Walters said he wanted it in place before this session ended so that it would bind the new Council. It raises a red flag when someone who is not running in this election is in a big hurry to pass a by-law whose express purpose is to bind members of future Councils to his will. Councillor Martyn said she does not want the Code of Conduct to duplicate the behaviours they already swear to follow when being sworn in with their Oath of Office.

If this is really a transparency measure, as Mayor Walters claims, then this is a challenge for him to have both the Oath of Office and the proposed Code of Conduct published on the front page of the municipal website where it can be easily found by the public, along with a time line inviting public comments on both. Better yet, send them through to Port Stanley News.com and we'll publish them on our front page - now that would be true transparency.

Last Updated: Monday, 07 April 2014 14:16:25 PM EST

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